A generation of girlish singer-songwriters is blooming in the United Kingdom, but the new female talent sprouting stateside is a little older, a little wiser, and, my Yankee pride be damned, just a little better. Give me Marissa Nadler any day over Lily Allen. Or Thao Nguyen over Kate Nash.
Youthful energy abounds on We Brave Bee Stings and All, the debut from the twenty-three-year-old Nguyen. Nguyen’s husky voice at times recalls Chan Marshall’s, but it’s a testament to her originality and talent that it’s mostly difficult to decipher her influences. And even the new, better-adjusted Cat Power isn’t making music this buoyantly happy.
The album begins strong with the eagerly strummed, earnestly sung “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire),” on which Nguyen warns that, rather than being ready to settle down, she’s always apt to “run like a bandit.” She alludes to childhood throughout the album, from the mention of ice cream in “Bag of Hammers” to the title of “Big Kid Table.” And “Swimming Pools” shimmers with nostalgia for Nguyen’s upbringing in suburban Virginia.
“Geography” is the center of Bee Sting’s musical map. A lumbering drum intro collapses into a hazy, repetitive keyboard line. Then Nguyen comes in complaining, “Oh geography is gonna make a mess of me,” selling the line with such conviction that it doesn’t really matter what the hell she means. Later she laments, “My mouth a confessional cannon/ Run away from me with the most reckless of abandon.”
“Geography” is the album’s fifth song, and after it not much else stands out. There are more handclaps, some horns, some pretty piano, and Nguyen’s sometimes too-cutesy lyrics, like “I worked my arms so hard just to give you an airplane ride” from “Feet Asleep.” But the album’s stellar start serves as a quality kick-off to her career. A member of the venerable Kill Rock Stars roster, Nguyen harks back to a time when true musicianship, rather than Internet page hits, got you noticed.
“Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)” MP3: http://www.krs5rc.com/krs/bands/thao/audio/Beat.mp3