The theme is consistent. When an artist is about to run away from the medium they have consistently worked in because of a feeling that everything that can be done and said within that medium has already been said and done. Sometimes you just have to take a step back, be truly honest with yourself and that’s when your art starts to pour out from you, whether you like it or not. Take Thao Nguyen of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. After her last album, 2016’s great A Man Alive, she thought that rock music wasn’t capable of saying what she needed to express any longer. Thao in fact, almost opted not to make another album. It took coming to terms with herself, her hidden public queer identity and the realization that the music she made previously was based more on generalities than what she felt personally. Thankfully Thao did decide to make another record, one that is among her most honest and open yet and it is a revelation. Temple takes the trademark intricate Thao & The Get Down Stay Down sound and expands on it. It’s an album that is rich with layers and textures both musically and lyrically and one that rewards with every listen.
The album kicks off with the groove laden title track. Thao and co producer and longtime bandmate Adam Thompson immediately throw you into the world they have created. It’s casual pace deceptively simple and it’s rhythm immediately captivating. This is immediately followed up with one of the albums highlights, the bumping “Phenom” with his heavy beat and almost nursery rhyme esque vocal melody. There is also a little nod to LL Cool J’s “Phenomenon” in the song’s ear worm of a chorus that is part homage and part Thao taking back some space for herself personally and in her career. “Lion on the Hunt” is all trap hats and a wobbly synth bass and it’s hypnotic. Temple was mixed by Mikaelin “Blue” Bluespruce who has previously worked on albums for Solange, Mariah Carey and Carly Rae Jepsen and her mix here, taking the denser aspects of the instrumentation and creating proper space for all these, give the record a clear and clean polish that heighten the proceedings from Thao’s former more DIY crafty approach to the production of her albums. “Pure Cinema” highlights Thao’s wonderful singing voice with a nice and simple call and response verse. “How Could I” kickstarts with a motorik drum beat and more of Thao’s intricate lullaby like melodies. One of Thao’s strengths is crafting these absolutely delightful vocal melodies which are buoyed by every song’s interesting rhythms, each one it’s own unique hook. The album culminates with “Marrow” a soothing and alluring piece that is a perfect end to the journey that Temple takes you on.
This is Thao and The Get Down Stay Down’s fifth album and with each release they just keep getting better, more interesting and interestingly, more personal. It’s a treat to all of us that Thao decided to keep creating because with Temple she has made her best album yet. There is so much to dig into on here. Each track takes the listener on a journey that allows you, even tangentially, into her thoughts and feelings and it’s positively intoxicating. With Temple there is a promise that an even brighter future is to come for Thao and The Get Down Stay Down, one that maybe even they had previously thought possible.
review by Adam Fink