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.
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.
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 mixtape reminiscent of the diverse and sweaty live-oak blues of Bonnie "Prince" Billys Beware and Greatest Palace Music, with "Chin Up, Kid" suggesting a downtempo 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 records (and the artists) 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. Its a statement that might very well be Trickey's boldest move yet. Shaped predominately by meditations on depression, anxiety, and heartbreak, his records have progressed over the years from quiet resistance to the worlds 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, the record 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 make their mark upon us. But they are not us. At least, 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, Were in this together and together were 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.