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The Albums of 2009: Know Better Learn Faster by Thao with The Get Down Stay Down

November 9, 2009


Some of the greatest albums have proved that heartbreak makes music go ’round. Thao Nguyen’s Know Better Learn Faster is no exception. As an audience, we revel in the pain that birthed Thao’s evolved folk. Coming from the battlegrounds of a real life break up, Thao with The Get Down Stay Down — consisting of Adam Thompson on bass, keys and additional guitar; and Willis Thompson on drums and percussion — compile thirteen cleverly crafted heartbreak songs that evoke contempt for the very concept of everlasting love.

The title track, “Know Better Learn Faster”, sets the somber tone with the help of Andrew Bird, who lends his fiddling and whistling expertise. Earthy tones speak humble words, yearning for someone to be “better than me”. Her smoky voice provides a perfect balance of dignity and pleading while weaving in and out of upbeat hand claps and that quirky acoustic guitar of hers. By the end, we feel sorry, almost pitiful, for her, wondering how tired she must be from fighting for so long.

Yet the wit and sarcasm of “Fixed It!” is the big fuck you she needed to shout. It comes complete with driving rhythm that riles you up for each “fixed it!”, punctuated with sharp, jabbing beats. The rowdy cheers at the end match the shouting buildup in the beginning as if to present the song as a fight between him and her. We all know who won. It’s this song that reminds you of all the terrible things the last person you loved did to you, making you wonder if it was ever really love at all.

Even though this album is cripplingly sarcastic, Thao and the Get Downs still manage to make you smile. Her flighty beats elate you to a future where you feel the same constant percussive thumps in your heart again. Know Better Learn Faster makes you realize that the contempt you feel for the one who hurt you eventually turns into contempt for the hurt, and not the person. Like any good album, every song reminds you of some pain and makes you wince with her; yet each time you press replay, you feel a little more hopeful in spite of all you’ve heard.

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