On Repeat: “Like The Linen”

23 09 2008

Hooray! The debut of a new column from Fabakis. The concept here is sort of like a combination of “records that have been neglected or forgotten” and “stuff we’ve been listening to lately”, and it’s called On Repeat.

Our feature today, brought to you by westsideheights, is:

Thao Nguyen & The Get Down Stay Down-Like The Linen (2005)       

This is the predecessor to Thao’s recent (and excellent) We Brave Bee Stings and All but it’s been somewhat neglected partly, I think, due to the fact that the record company which released it no longer exists, at least as far as I can tell. Obviously, though, I think it warrants some attention.

The defining element of this album is it’s disarming honesty, and that’s probably the thing that’s put it on repeat for me. The sound of the album is characterized primarily by Thao’s folksy, jangling guitar and her drawling vocal tone, which combine to make an overall tone that could be described as almost sloppy (this is especially evident in “We”, which sounds almost like an outtake). This creates an atmosphere of relaxed intimacy that is the perfect canvas for Thao’s understated lyrical style. 

This is really the kicker and the thing that keeps you coming back to the album. Overall, there is nothing that unusual about Thao’s writing; it features the appropriate amount of metaphors and slightly opaque statements. The tone is that of detached observation, even in the most heartfelt songs. However, it is punctuated by lines of plain bluntness that belie a deeper anger or sadness. Her lyrics are definitely the result of a long period of reflection beforehand.

As an example, I’ll use the album’s most angsty and probably best song: “Tallymarks”. The song starts out with:

“I can’t explain it, I’m afraid of noise/ And all this time I’m still afraid of boys”.

Good, but certainly nothing amazing. The first half of the chorus improves on that, features the metaphor “we drop tears like tallymarks” which, I am told, is stunningly apt (being a boy I can’t relate that well to crying metaphors). Then comes the punctuation of brutal honesty:

“I think I might miss you enough to say so”.

She states this like a conclusion to a long essay, a sanguine observation. But by just stating the conclusion she allows us to imagine the extent of the emotional turmoil which went into the conclusion.

This analytical attitude is what elevates Like The Linen from angsty to excellent. Any old emo hack can write a song saying “I’m feel so guilty that I just had a meaningless rebound hookup” but only would able to analyse the emotions and tell said rebound hookup straight up that:

“You were not what I needed/ Was not drunk just defeated so I say/ And of course I didn’t want you/ I just wanted to see what you would say”.

The album is rife with other examples, and I could go through song by song saying how awesome it is, but I think everyone gets the idea.

There are also, of course, the normal album critical things: the songs are unified but varied, there are recurring lyrical themes etc. Even if the lyrics don’t get to you the way they get to me, I still think the album is worth finding (its available legally through at least one online retailer and illegally through some concerted googling) and giving a good hard listen… preferably on repeat.

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