Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The memory doesn't serve when trying to recall when the last time might have been that a specific and reachable clavicle and bare shoulder were so beautiful and meaningful to so many different people, complete strangers included. Just visually, they are striking parts of human ingenuity, of the luck of impossibility, the result of genes slaving away in the kitchen, throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks. These parts stuck and what makes them imposing and mesmerizing is that they stimulate wild and cluttered thoughts of necessary closeness.
The clavicle and shoulder in question belong to West Coaster Thao Nguyen and they remind you of nourishment and your favorite hot and steamy mocha drink, the one that you order every time you need that one coffeed comfort. It's as if it's the worn out thumb that you sucked on until you were old enough to know better and you thumb skin was wrinkled from the saliva. It's the thumb that you used to take you from this place to anywhere else, via any manner imaginable, any way that came along - the excitement always usurping the dangerous treachery that could be out there offering rides. "It's okay," the inner voice coos as you sidle into the seat and continue on down the road, suddenly out of control. The shoulder and clavicle are provocative in that they are as welcoming and interesting to the eye as a movie screen, a big white rectangle hanging from the ceiling ready to feature life that doesn't actually exist. It's a palpable kind of delight, of bated wonder. See, those two body parts - which share a cloaking of the same pure-toned skin - are but two of however many parts Nguyen has in and on her that exude the same kinds of sentiments - of drowsy contentment, of fiery bucking, of willing abandon, of awestruck curiosity, of kissable pleasantries, of demonstrative buoyancy, of unmixed and unrestrained love.
Nguyen's latest record with the Get Down Stay Down (filled out splendidly by bassist Adam Thompson and drummer Willis Thompson), We Brave Bee Stings And All, feels sometimes to be about hurts, but there's too much springiness in her voice to allow for any wallowing. It's a songbook of keen observations of luckless travelers and wandering souls, of unpinnable hearts that would rather take plenty of lumps than to slow the legs and body down for too long. It's an album that's a jackpot of abuse stories, mostly of the destructive ways that often get taken by those who assume that youth is essentially meant for that specific purpose - for the kinds of trials by error that could be predicted from four miles away. But youth gets away with it and finds a way to make the shattered fragments and clippings, the ash and soot, charming and luxurious, just like the aforementioned shoulder and fetching clavicle. Nguyen sings, "We don't dive, we cannonball," and it's this reusable rallying cry or thesis that gives credit to the caution to the wind operation that she chooses to unwind.
It's a lovely way to do things. It's a scary way to do things and yet the sleepy, but deadly-eyed Nguyen is magnificent in her harnessing of the intricacies of pushing all of the chips to the center of the table when she may only be holding a pair of threes. She's going to bluff and she's going to keep the face of a statue. There is daring in all of her songs and movement and bodies invisibly rubbing like breezes. There is devastation and abandonment. And when the outcome is apparent, there is still this young body that needs a gentle touch, this shoulder of hers and this clavicle of hers that are vulnerable and still full of daring. She will cozy up into that frame and skin and wait until the fallout isn't striking against the tin of the roof so hard anymore and she'll go back out into the elements, knowing that the next storm is working off steam somewhere already and setting its sights on her direction.
Thao Nguyen & The Get Down Stay Down Official Site
Kill Rock Stars Records