Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s fifth album, Temple, is a rhythmic and clever personification of personal liberation. Thao Nguyen has explained that Temple addresses the reservations her family had about her living publicly as a lesbian, explaining that “fear has been such an unfortunate and large presence in my career and in my life… but I’m just so glad to be out from under that.” That sense of shaking free mental shackles is felt throughout the album, which is loose, fun, vulnerable, and experimental in equal measures.
The album begins with the double impact of “Temple” and “Phenom.” The song begins with a nearly surf-rock rhythm and maneuvers into a tightly coiled hip-hop-infused rhythm. This rhythm carries into “Phenom,” which finds Nguyen delivering a laidback and sly, but powerful vocal performance that erupts into rock vocals with the chorus that declares “I am an old phenomenon.” “Lion On the Hunt” follows after, with lyrics stating that “I wanna star/not guest/ simply because I’m the best.” This fearless embrace of power and identity breathes life into the album as each track bounces between various genres and moods.
“Pure Cinema” and “Marauders” turn the energy down a bit, with the latter song approaching ballad territory. However, these two tracks illustrate the vulnerability underneath the surface swagger apparent in the first few tracks. Another strength of the album is its theme of reckoning with your past self and changing your actions in the future. In “Marauders,” Nguyen sings, “I got that poison out, carve it on out/barely saved me then/ and it only hurts me now,” thinking back on her previous methods for dealing with inner turmoil. In “How Could I,” she states simply that “I don’t want to be so disappointing.”
This movement through personal introspection is necessary for the ultimate sense of liberation embodied by the album. That sense is felt throughout by the free use of hip-hop, rock, folk-rock, and pop throughout the album, as well as Nguyen’s direct vocal performance. Everything culminates in the album-closer, “Marrow,” which manages to pull together the various musical elements present throughout Temple while offering a conclusion to the emotional journey. She sings, “I was an island…I was silent/ I could barely hear me breathing/ You dawned upon me…/ I was the drought/ And you were the coast.” She sings to this new person, “I’m sorry to you/, and I’m sorry to me” for how she was before. On the other side of Temple, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down have taken us through a subtle but relatable journey of self-reflection, reckoning, and ownership. It doesn’t hurt that the songs are eminently listenable as well.