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It was 2008, and amid the wreckage of the financial meltdown, indie folk was having a moment. Bon Iver’s “authentic” melancholy dominated a generation of breakup playlists. Fleet Foxes’ swelling, choir-boy harmonies packed the pews. And a little-known songwriter named Thao Nguyen was picking up Cat Power comparisons with her album We Brave Bee Stings and All.
Reviewers praised Thao as quirky (she learned how to play guitar in her mother’s laundromat) and perky (the record was stuffed with beat-boxing and handclaps), if not raw—at times her voice swung stubbornly off-key, which lent her an air of rough-hewn realness. The lyrics, too, cut deft and deep: Thao would sing in one moment about dewy childhood nostalgia, and in another dive into a dark corporeality of blood, bones, and heart attacks. She was 23 years old.