Rhythm & Views

Thao Nguyen

The title for Thao Nguyen's second album comes from the song "Swimming Pools," which pops along with seemingly unsuspecting banjo and power chords. Listen closely to Thao's breathy vocals, though, and the song's real feminist bent becomes far less bubbly. "We splash our eyes full of chemicals just so there's none left for little girls," Nguyen cries. The image is a powerful one, about taking the poison yourself just to get rid of it. Braving bee stings becomes just another sacrifice, a protective measure to make the world a tiny bit safer.

And therein lies the ingenuity of We Brave Bee Stings and All: Instead of being just another pretty indie face, Nguyen can infuse her Pavement-like songs with strange and thoughtful images. "Let's go home and eat sweet things / throw our arms across our eyes / They are angry like motorcycles," she sings at the beginning of "We Go," and the feet in "Feet Asleep" stand in for the whole person, sleeping through life.

On "Fear and Convenience," the image becomes purely musical: Nguyen asks, "Did he hurt you in a new way?" and then plays a tricky hook on her guitar. The contrast between the question and the music is striking, almost as if Nguyen's guitar is fighting back. "Bag of Hammers," with its pre-chorus of "shake shake shake!" and its tongue clicks, is the best song on the album, especially when Nguyen gives the perfect image for her music: "As sharp as I sting / as sharp as I sing / It still soothes you, doesn't it / like a lick of ice cream?"

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