Thao’s woes won’t chip your shoulder

Thao Nguyen doesn’t really like people, and it shows in her songwriting. “Are you unhappy for me? Well I’m unhappy for you,” she sings with a casualty as crisp and sugary as breakfast cereal. If she were a character in a Shakespeare play, she’d probably be the kind that ended up trapped in a chamber with a madman, a storm beating at the window, soliloquizing about how she knew it would happen all along. Her suitor would scratch his head at her and go for the dumb girl instead. “I’ve seen fear and convenience,” she croons, “but I’ve never glimpsed romance.”

Not that her new album, “We Brave Bee Stings and All,” sounds like it’s sung by a Fiona Apple-Tori Amos hologram ready to jump off a cliff. She strums an acoustic guitar with the serenity of a stoned surfer in Hawaii, while her backing band, The Get Down Stay Down, throw in cheerful trumpets, a murmuring organ, and even a few breezy cymbals. Her voice is light and wise. No “American Idol” style bottom-of-the-lungs roars here.

The result is a masterfully constructed dose of irony. Thao is no “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book club member, but she’s no Prozac-fest either.

“Big Kid Table” is one of the best tracks, capturing her knack for remaining tuneful while confessing what is otherwise a depressing sentiment about her tendency to sabotage herself. “I drink only that which makes me thirsty,” she sings as she snaps her fingers.

In the track “Geography,” she begs the same question that Karen O. brought along when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released the tear-down-the-cheek, drum heavy ballad “Maps.”

What exactly, is implied by maps? Apparently the flood of GPS devices and satellite imaging has been appropriated by musical poets to express some kind of mysterious sadness. “Oh geography is going to make a mess of me,” she chants.

Her metaphors are often equally cryptic, conveying a bizarre image that obscures her occasionally blunt accusations.

“We splash our eyes full of chemicals, just so there’s none left for little girls,” she sings on the track “Swimming Pools,” a galloping folk tune driven by a banjo. She seems to be warning of some ominous future, but the threads of her reasoning aren’t to be easily traced.

Yes, the world has wronged Thao, and in more ways than just shuffling her into becoming a one-name act. (Yes Nguyen is hard to pronounce, but we could have learned!) Despite the injustice, all she wants to do is bring you into her lair and tell you sad stories over pretty music.