The Deal: Indie popper inspires smiles through the bullshit.
The Good: Amid the hordes of downcast chanteuses dramatizing their weltschmerz in melancholic fare, it's practically revelatory to hear Thao Nguyen cope with our fucked-up universe by remembering that they don't call it "pop" music for nuthin'. Shot through with bubbly melodies, swinging horn arrangements and mischievous humor, Nguyen's up-tempo tunes nevertheless carry plenty of emotional weight despite the music's infectious bounciness. Part of the credit goes to her top-notch band and guest spots from Laura Veirs, banjo-man Danny Barnes and Tucker Martine (the Decembrists, Jesse Sykes, Mudhoney), whose spot-on production pulls together several styles seamlessly. But it's Nguyen's charming persona, witty lyrics and songs that gleefully blend genres – soul, blues, country, folk, jazz, and rock – while recounting one relationship misstep after another that most impress. Not many would succeed contrasting a line like "Did he hurt you/In a new way?" (from "Fear and Convenience") with slinky beats, syncopated guitar chops and happy horn blasts, but she pulls it off throughout. She's not blessed with great vocal range, but her slightly flat pitch and half-spoken delivery recalls at various junctures a saucier Leslie Feist, a more demure Liz Phair or a less beatnik-y Rikki Lee Jones – but the net result is unique new voice.
The Bad: The 11 songs whip past at EP speed (32 minutes), leaving you craving more; as complaints go, that's pretty slight.
The Verdict: Fun.