Elevate Difference

Know Better Learn Faster

“Messy” and “complicated” could very well be the two best words for defining romantic love. As suggested by the title of Thao with The Get Down Stay Down’s latest record, Know Better Learn Faster, the brokenhearted masses could easily avoid painful relationships if they were just plain smarter and quicker learners. Alas, we as humans aren’t always the best decision makers, and as a small consolation, that’s why we get great break-up albums like this one.

On their second release for KRS, Thao with The Get Down Stay Down offers a varied record that is mostly energetic but also studded with a few mellow tracks. Drummer Willis Thompson, bassist and keyboardist Adam Thompson, and singer and guitarist Thao Nguyen have struck a fine balance of pacing on this album, avoiding any clichéd or sappy songs. The music itself is so lively that Know Better Learn Faster can be listened to at any time and in any mood.

Complementing the vibrant music are Nguyen’s capable songwriting abilities. She has a knack for quirky, attention-grabbing one-liners. On “Trouble Was For,” she opens the track by sultrily singing, “Everybody please put your clothes back on/We must see what the trouble was for,” and on “Body,” Nguyen pointedly asks, “What am I, just a body in your bed?”

“The Clap” gives the album an ominous and threatening opening. It’s a half-minute track complete with hand claps and layered vocals that repeats, “If this is how you want it ok, ok.” Sonically, this is as dark as the album gets, and while other tunes on Know Better Learn Faster are slowed and melancholic, none seem as chilling as the opener.

In most break-ups, there always seems to be a period of longing for the other to come back. This is a theme that is brought up frequently by Nguyen, like on “When We Swam,” where the plea is sung to “bring your hips to me,” or again on “Body,” where Nguyen makes a desire known by asking, “Won’t you reach for the body in your bed?”

But like Nguyen’s voice, which is strong and full-bodied, there’s a sense of resolve throughout the record to accept that the relationship is truly finished. On “Good Luck and Goodbye,” Nguyen sings, “Take care of your neck and spine and good luck and goodbye,” as if she is giving a reminder to learn from the past and to protect yourself from letting a relationship break you apart.

The dance-inducing “Easy” closes the album. It begins with Nguyen reminding us that “sad people dance, too.” It’s a great way to end this enjoyable album. Thao with The Get Down Stay Down leaves us with the knowledge that break-ups are never easy, but somehow, falling in love is still worth it.

Written by: Beverly Jenkins-Crockett, January 9th 2010