A triumph in individuality and courage
Thao and The Get Down Stay Down have been at it for nearly 20 years now. Pushing the limits of alternative rock, that is. On their fifth studio album, the San Francisco-based band has found themselves exploring uncertainty; what can create it, how to live with it, and how to eventually overcome it. Temple pays homage to the strength of the individual, and one’s innate ability to deal with the often confusing and painful world that we are forced to face every day.
On track one, “Temple,” frontwoman Thao Nguyen sings, “I lost my city in the light of day,” while the steel-ish guitar tone and brooding bassline both recall the wild west. This track paints Nguyen as a maverick that understands the volatility of the world around her, but isn’t afraid to make adjustments in order to thrive within this volatility; certainly an exciting image for an album opener. “Phenom” continues this thread by further emphasizing her power to obliterate injustice with awesome lyrics like, “I am erupting/ don’t interrupt it,” and “don’t you f*cking touch me/ I will gnash, gnash, gnash.” This one is an absolute statement.
Then, “Lion on the Hunt” quietly delivers one of the band’s coolest instrumental moments. The drums are the shining jewel here, driving the track’s self-assuredness with flickering high hat hits that pair well with the winding guitar work. “Pure Cinema” is where Nguyen starts to open up, and question whether or not what she has now is enough to reach a sense of belonging and normalcy. It hits closer to home but still strikes an encouraging chord. “Mauraders” follows this up with a full-on admittance of weakness. The instrumentation is a little more sparse here, as Nguyen wonders why her partner can’t just “be sweet/ be soft with me/ be kind to me/ be kind to me.”
“How Could I,” “Disclaim” and “Rational Animal” are where the album’s focus on independence and individuality in the face of uncertainty really starts to come into focus. While this series of three tracks include some of Nguyen’s weaker vocal performances, it also has some fun forays into more cinematic instrumentation, negative space, and standout melodic work, respectively. The album concludes with “I’ve Got Something” and “Marrow,” the ultimate 1-2 punch of courage and durability. These final moments of Temple feel not only like an incredibly cathartic experience for Nguyen, but also like genuine encouragement for her listeners to take on their world without fear.
Much of what is so impressive about this album lies in the group’s ability to write arrangements that beautifully complement (and often mimic) the emotional content of Nguyen’s gorgeous lyrics. Wherever a triumph of Thao’s spirit is reflected in her lyrics, that same triumph appears in the instrumentation in a vastly different but extremely important way. The same goes for her shortcomings, total failures, and everything in between. Much of the album’s content and emotional depth comes from this interplay, and it’s why Temple is such a rewarding listen from front to back.