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Quirky but cutting, playful but forceful, controlled but ragged, Thao Nguyen is one of the most commanding and distinctive young singers around. She infuses everything around her with electricity and mischievous boldness, from her live-wire concerts to the way her songs gallop and clamor, picking up intensity as they go along. With her band The Get Down Stay Down, Nguyen is about to release her third album — We the Common, out Feb. 5 — and it's full of tense, clattering folk-rock.
Produced by John Congleton, your go-to studio hand for musicians who stuff their songs with surprises, We the Common finds room for a fellow iconoclast in Joanna Newsom; in the shuffling "Kindness Be Conceived," the two find middle ground between Nguyen's hookiness and Newsom's eccentricity. But there's always been room for both of those qualities in any given Thao Nguyen song, where playful punches to the upper arm so often turn into body blows at a moment's notice.