PREMIERE: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down Are Ready for “Departure” in Pickathon Slab Session
Get down in Oregon, stay down in Oregon.
Thao Nguyen is a very good guitarist. That much is obvious, obviously, but perhaps it’s too obvious; her knotty, percussive playing traces the topography of her band’s equally dynamic sound so easily and integrates with it so effortlessly that it’s tempting to think of the average Thao & the Get Down Stay Down song as having rolled itself together independent of its creator. Nguyen is also a deft songwriter, the kind that sublimates talent in the name of the ethereal feel. Her technical playing, while always inventive, is also always made to serve the needs of the song at hand; you don’t always need to shred, and sometimes when you do, you need to do it in secret. But don’t be fooled.
Last week we brought you the first episode of Slab Series, starring Ultimate Painting. Just as the initial installment of the Pickathon 2016–2017 Season highlighted the delicacy of that group’s “Song for Brian Jones,” today’s episode—which was filmed by Half Stop Sessions on (you guessed it) a concrete slab somewhere in the woods on the Happy Valley, Oregon, festival site—makes clear the complications of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s “Departure,” from this year’s Merrill Garbus–produced A Man Alive, in which Nguyen bends strutting runs on an electric mandolin into pained, frustrated service, taking the place of unsaid things. Check it out below.