- Start: 7 August 2016 8:00 pm
Ben Trickey is a layman’s existentialist, a dive-bar philosopher both driven and paralyzed by a deep fascination with life’s greatest question. In his songs, he perpetually contemplates his purpose, and with a wounded, wary croon, his dark indie-folk struggles for hope in the face of desolation. His new album, Choke & Croon is available now on iTunes and bentrickey.com.Mined from personal experience, Trickey’s writing finds metaphors in the grime and grim sentiments of the Dirty South and his hometown of Atlanta. He’s battled his insecurities playing hushed sets opening for luminaries such as Jason Isbell, Phosphorescent, Vic Chesnutt and Damien Jurado, in the process earning accolades from outlets like No Depression, PopMatters and even a shout-out from comedian Marc Maron.
For a record founded on a thesis of undiluted acceptance, there are a whole lot of risks taken and changes executed throughout Ben Trickey’s new album, “Choke & Croon”. The most obvious of these are the songs’ composition and arrangement, consciously shifting away from the alt-country sounds that grounded Come On, Hold On and Rising Waters and entering into the broader, more nuanced conversation of Americana. The overall result—held together masterfully by Trickey’s signature kicked-dog vibrato—is a sort of mix-tape reminiscent of the diverse and sweaty live-oak blues of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Beware and Greatest Palace Music, with “Chin Up, Kid” suggesting a down-tempo Spoon jam and “Bombs”—undoubtedly the strangest track on the record—scratching the walls with fuzzed-out bass, discordant strings, and anthemic vocals that are equal parts punk and Springsteen (which maybe is just a complicated way of saying “proudly influenced by Craig Finn”). And while this song might be the record’s (and the artist’s) greatest departure, “Bombs” is also where the central theme of Choke & Croon is most blatantly laid bare: our most defining characteristics are not our traumas and injuries. It’s a statement that might very well be Trickey’s boldest move yet. Shaped predominately by meditations on depression, anxiety, and heartbreak, Trickey’s records have progressed over the years from quiet resistance to the world’s cruelties to a sort of beaten resignation. The next logical step in this trajectory, obviously, would be defeat. But Choke & Croon isn’t interested in obvious steps. Instead of hunkering down for a long miserable wallow, Choke & Croon glasses the horizon for a new direction, seeking out a more hopeful course while proclaiming its truths in simple terms. We are not our traumas. We are not our scars. They might miter their mark upon us. But they are not us. Or anyway, they don’t have to be. That’s our choice. There’s a solidarity to existence expressed on the album as mentioned in the line, “We’re in this together and together we’re dreaming” from the song Alabama.
While some of Trickey’s barren folk landscapes and bleak melodies may come off on the surface as wrist-cutters, he doesn’t see it that way. “I think that all my songs are written from the perspective of loving life and then trying to make sense of the tragedy of it,” he says. “I think they’re all written from the viewpoint of looking up versus falling into it. Hopefully.”
It’s been over 15 years since Trickey transitioned from abstract video art and noise experimentation into the palpable, relatable gritty folk and rough-hewn Americana that now reads as second nature. He began dabbling in alt-country and the like during graduate school in western New York, then traveled back to Atlanta, where he’d lived since the late ’90s. When he returned in the early 2000s, Trickey regularly held court at a weekly brunch service at The Earl, a revered Atlanta rock club, before moving on to bigger bills. While locals nursed hangovers, gathering mistakes and regrets as they came to memory, Trickey honed his newfound desire to vindicate perseverance through song.
Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing dubbed Trickey’s 2013 Rising Waters album his “most compelling album yet,” adding that “at times Rising Waters feels like an apology, but the mordant lyrics and Trickey’s forlorn poetry fall perfectly in lock step with the album’s sparse arrangements.” In between Rising Waters and the new album, he finished a series of four 7”s that were released in a limited edition boxed set and wrote the intro to friend and author, Douglas W. Milliken’s excellent collection of short stories, “Cream River.” A regional tour and a series of one-off appearances in New York are on the horizon for Trickey. “Choke & Croon” will be available on CD, LP and iTunes in August from Anthem Breath Records.$521+