''The album is named 'Know Better Learn Faster' because you can't,'' explains Thao. ''By the time you realize you should, it's too late. And I enjoy the predicament and the totally devastating, unfunny humor of that.''
Thao and the ever-versatile Get Down Stay Down (Adam Thompson on bass, keys and additional guitar, and Willis Thompson on drums and percussion) return with the follow up to their critically lauded and riotously applauded previous album, ''We Brave Bee Stings and All'', the breakout success and best-selling record of 2008 for Kill Rock Stars. With super-producer and friend Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Bill Frisell, Spoon) again at the helm, Know Better Learn Faster perfectly captures the band as their more mature, tastefully raucous, tastefully subdued and musically adventurous selves. Honed, trimmed and tightened over the last year and a half of constant touring, the now-trio delivers Thao's cleverly crafted and emotionally evocative songs with vibrant, innovative instrumentation, incredible energy and a still-acutely-solid sense of what sounds good. The new batch of songs spans all genres and influences, all the while staying faithful to their distinct style, sharp wit, and the infectious and enamoring exuberance of their renowned live shows.
It begins with a threat, bare and ominous. ''If this is how you want it / Okay, okay,'' Thao Nguyen and a seething chorus of friends howl on the first track of her third LP, just before the song bursts into a cacophony of righteous hand claps bearing along the line's portentous fury. Repeated four times, each time it becomes more clear: This girl is p*****. And she has a posse. And whoever the guy is that sparked this collection of reeling post-breakup songs, he had better brace himself.
She's doing more than airing some unsuspecting ex's dirty laundry: Unleashing lyrics like ''What am I, just a body in your bed? / Won't you reach for that body in your bed?'' on the crippling ''Body,'' Nguyen proves she hardly needs a clothesline to string up any fella that crosses her (and also that she acknowledges her own guilt in the matter). No, it's even more devastating all those failures and regrets and sad, private moments made public in a magnificent musical catharsis.
Abetted by Tucker Martine's warm, piquant production, the songs swerve from the bouyant, jangly pop of ''Cool Yourself'' to the trembling lament of ''But What of the Strangers,'' with its finger-picked guitar and shuddering organ. Nguyen's band and musical guests provide cavernous backing vocals throughout; Andrew Bird whistles and bows on the title track, and there's often a Stephen Malkmus tinge to her drawl and lilting electric guitar. But Know Better Learn Faster mostly sounds like a young artist coming into her own -- in music and life and love.
On We Brave Bee Stings And All, her 2008 Kill Rock Stars debut, a less lovelorn Nguyen sang, ''We don t dive, we cannonball / And we splash our eyes full of chemicals / Just so there's none left for little girls,'' and she's more than kept that promise here, throwing herself headlong into suffering for our benefit and the payoff is glorious. This is how we want it. --Paste Magazine
As an angry, resentful breakup record, the fourth album from wry singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen is totally unsatisfying, at least on the surface. She doesn't pile on the hatred for her ex or threaten revenge, and opener ''The Clap'' is about, well, clapping. But Nguyen uses subtler weapons -- foot stomps stand in for her wrath, horns for her desperation, and strings for her heartache. ''I can love you like this now / You can recognize it later,'' she predicts on ''Cool Yourself.'' Her lazily smoky voice has its bitterly harsh moments, but her coolly analytical self-awareness stings the most. --Spin Magazine
Despite the first-person plural pronoun in the title of Thao Nguyen's debut album, We Brave Bee Stings and All played like a very personal, at times even lonely, coming-of-age story. That album was lively but not light, an especially exuberant celebration of newfound musical possibilities. By contrast, her follow-up is the post-party comedown, a collection of hard-learned lessons about love, sex, and human connection. Know Better Learn Faster is a more mature record, slightly disillusioned with the world, but no less playful and with no less personality.
She and her backing band the Get Down Stay Down certainly live up to this album title: Know Better Learn Faster sports a fuller sound with more pop tricks and trickier arrangements that incorporate swirling Philip Glass-y keyboards on ''Burn You Up'' and Pavement slackness on ''Good Bye Good Luck''. New Orleans horns punctuate the imperative ''Cool Yourself'', and the shape-shifting ''The Give'' pairs her banjo with low guitar notes that draw out the distress in her lyrics. The band's energy rarely flags; instead the guitars grow only more manic and urgent as the album progresses. Vocally, Thao throws herself into the giddy pop of the title track and ''When We Swam'' with an abandon that contrasts nicely with the confessed uncertainties of ''But What of the Strangers''. On ''Body'' she plays the neglected woman with a wounded anger, questioning a distant bedmate while sounding a bit like Ghost of a Dog-era Edie Brickell-- no pan.
''Everybody please put your clothes back on,'' she commands on the loose, jangly ''Trouble Was For''. The things people do with their clothes off weigh heavily on her mind throughout the album, which is sure to generate unfairly prurient interest. She's no Liz Phair, though. Thao may be demanding, but she's never crude. ''Bring your hips to me,'' she sings repeatedly and flirtatiously on ''When We Swam''. She can be desperate but never plays the victim. ''What I am, just a body in your bed?'' she accuses on ''Body'', before turning that the question in on itself: ''Won't you reach for the body in your bed?'' These physical details and pointed demands pop out of the songs, evoking a situation rather than describing it outright, in much the same way Lucinda Williams uses geographical details or Will Sheff breaks the fourth wall.
Know Better Learn Faster is an album of doomed relationships and what Thao calls ''sad sex,'' and she comes across as a chronicler of a scene, reporting from a circle of friends and acquaintances-- perhaps the same ones who shout the choruses of ''Good Bye Good Luck''. That communal perspective is crucial to making this album sound much more extroverted than its predecessor. Projecting outward, she conveys a warm exuberance that keeps the music spry despite the weighty subject matter. Or, as she intones by way of introducing the boogie-shoegazer finale ''Easy'': ''Sad people dance, too.'' --Pitchfork