9:30 Club presents at U Street Music Hall:
In The Valley Below
Wednesday Oct 11
6:30 pmU Street Music Hall
This event is all ageshttps://www.ustreetmusichall.com/event/1537836/
Tricky returns with his 13th album, ununiform, out in September on his own label False Idols via !K7 Music. It’s a delicate, storming, intricate album that sees Tricky take perhaps his most radical step yet – a journey into happiness and contentment. It’s a record that shows the legendary British producer confront his legacy, history, family – even death itself. And in all of this, he finds the strangest, least familiar thing – peace.
This is the first album-proper made since Tricky moved to Berlin, three years ago. While many people move to the clubbing capital of Europe to party, this was a clean break, in every sense of the word. “I like it here because I don't know anybody. I eat good food, I go for walks, I've got a bike. I’m trying to look after myself. I don’t drink here. Some people call it boring, but I wake at 9am and I'm asleep by 11 o’clock at night. I’m looking after myself.”
Though most of ununiform was made in his adopted capital, four tracks were recorded in a city further east, the capital of Russia. “Moscow is my favourite city in the world,” he says. “I didn’t want to spend Christmas at home, so in December 2016 I spent three weeks there recording and eating Russian food.” The four tracks made in the dead of winter in Moscow feature collaborations with local rappers and producers. “I've been listening to Russian rap for 20 years. I love those accents, so I've always wanted a Russian rapper on my album.”
The rappers and producers he worked with are among the most famous and critically acclaimed in Russia. Among them is Scriptonite, who MCs on the knotty ‘Blood Of My Blood’ and ‘Same As It Ever Was’. Vasiliy Vakulenko, one of the country’s most popular rappers, made the beat for graceful, gaseous single ‘The Only Way’. Rapper Smoky Mo appears on digital rap workout ‘Bang Boogie’, a tune produced by Gazgolder, the owner of one of Russia’s best and biggest rap labels. All this without Tricky speaking Russian. “I don't need to understand what they’re rapping. I could just feel it. People live like everyday is their last day, and I like that.”
Though the album is more settled and at peace with life than any other that Tricky has recorded, it’s also one shot through with references to the end of life, from the raving, synth-led ‘Dark Days’ to the single ‘When We Die.’ “Word to the wise: I don't want to die young,” Tricky explains. “But my first memory was seeing my mother dead in her coffin in my family house. I'd go in, stand on the chair and look at her. So I’m saying to that kid on the chair, ‘it's going to be OK. You're going to tour the world, you're going to make music, and the good life is going to come in.’ If you don't accept death, you don't really accept life.”
Tricky also credits much of the freedom of ununiform to something more grounded: “This album now is the first album I've made (in years) which isn’t going to pay off some kind of debt. So it's more relaxed!” Referring to his previous albums, False Idols, Adrian Thaws, and the Skilled Mechanics project, he says “I was doing these records thinking ‘the quicker I do this album, the quicker I pay off the tax people.’ So ununiform has been very chilled out. Now, I own the label, I pay for everything myself. I'm a truly independent artist. Now I do what I want. Freedom is a beautiful thing.”
Interestingly, the effect of this new-found financial freedom, and a newly healthy lifestyle, has led to Tricky turning back to his classic sound – perhaps the final frontier for such an inveterate experimentalist. “I've got nothing to prove now, and I'm comfortable with referencing myself.” Indeed, he’s since described lead single ‘The Only Way’ as “Hell is Round The Corner, Part 2”. This sensation is perhaps a response to a wave of artists referencing Tricky’s ‘90s records and his approach, from The xx to boundary-pushing London rappers Gaika and CASisDEAD, the latter of which Tricky recently collaborated with. “I've got a really wide audience. So I've got nothing to prove. I feel like sometimes it's OK to do it again.”
In this spirit of revisiting the past, ununiform also sees the return of previous collaborators Francesca Belmonte as well as former girlfriend Martina Topley-Bird. ‘New Stole’ is a fresh take on ‘Stole’, a song from Italian singer Belmonte’s Tricky-produced and False Idols–released 2015 album Anima. Martina was the vocalist on Tricky’s era-defining debut album, Maxinquaye, released one month before their daughter was born, and featured on his follow-up albums Nearly God (1996), Pre-Millennium Tension (1996), and Angels with Dirty Faces (1998). Since this extraordinary streak of albums, their relationship has been less fruitful musically – this is the first time that they’ve worked together on a record since Tricky guested on Martina’s Mercury-nominated solo album Quixotic (2003). Yet Tricky is keen to stress that her vocal on the sumptuous ‘When We Die’ is less of an emotional reunion than it appears at first glance. Tricky stresses that though their musical collaboration elapsed over a decade ago, they’ve been in constant contact through raising their daughter. “This situation happened through actually having the time to do it. I said to Martina ‘it would be great if you were on the album,’ and it happened really naturally, with her sending her vocal in an email. My managers realise it's a big deal and that it would be to listeners, but it’s not to us”. Yet Tricky is still eager to discover and collaborate with emerging talent. Enter female vocalists Terra Lopez (part of the group Rituals of Mine) who features on ‘Armor’, Mina Rose who features on album highlight ‘Running Wild’, and Avalon Lurks who delivers the vocal on the cover of Hole’s 1994 song ‘Doll Parts’.
There’s one final emotional return that took place over the last three years – Tricky’s reconnection with his family’s history in Bristol’s soundsystem culture, and the discovery that his granddad was legendary (and the stupendously named) reggae DJ Tarzan The High Priest. Back in 1965, when the first wave of Afro-Caribbean immigrants were making their home in the port city of Bristol, Tarzan set up one of the city’s first soundsystems – a glorious if under-reported history that was uncovered through Bristol Soundsystem Culture, a landmark exhibition in Tricky’s hometown. “My granddad made a record and in those days it was a big thing. He was a well-known artist before I was born, and changed English music in ways we don’t even know.” Tricky’s tough family life has long been the subject of psychological speculation on the part of critics and fans – his mother killed herself when Tricky was four, and he was raised in a series of foster homes. But this revelation of a lost musical great in the family has transformed Tricky’s life. “I reconnected with my father’s side of the family during the recording of this album, and in a way, the fact that I'm coming from good lineage made me feel good coming into this album. I’m from a line of kings. That feels good.”
At one point, he asks a rhetorical question: “People say this album sounds like ‘Tricky’ … But what does that actually sound like?”. Ununiform, then, is a glorious, beautiful, intensely personal attempt to answer that question.
In The Valley Below
For In the Valley Below’s Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail, their Elephant EP represents the latest chapter in an ongoing relationship that is rooted in both the music they create and the family which has followed. Relocated from their tiny, one-bedroom Echo Park apartment in Los Angeles, the now-married pair have moved to a 93-year-old house they bought in Grand Rapids, MI. There, they installed a basement studio that served as the birthplace for their next collection of songs to be released on acclaimed Bay Area, ADA-distributed indie Bright Antenna, three years after The Belt and its worldwide alternative hit, “Peaches,” was released.
“After spending three years on the road, we wanted a place to come home to that was quiet, and not so claustrophobic,” says Angela about the decision to flee L.A. “We found Grand Rapids to be a city full of creative energy, fresh air, and rough edges. It’s been inspiring. A lot of people we’ve met here migrated at the same time we did from the West Coast. Maybe it’s some kind of human instinct.”
Solid touring in Europe and the US included festivals like Reading and Leeds, Austin City Limits, Rock En Seine and more. Appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, Conan, and other international appearances all seemed to happen at once “like a dream”. However, this sudden success wasn’t sudden at all. They spent years in LA playing in bands looking for a break. They self released a 5-song EP and shortly after signed to several record labels across the globe. “Peaches” first found the airwaves in Europe, debuting on BBC Radio One and climbing the charts in France and Germany, becoming #1 on French Alternative radio. Over a year later, it became a staple on US alternative radio.
The Elephant EP continues the pair’s thematic concerns – sex, relationships, power, temptation, paranoia, existential angst and mortality. The hybrid, atmospheric dance-rock synthesis they introduced on The Belt – which incorporated Memphis native Jeffrey’s primal rock influences with Angela’s Stevie Nicks folk vibe – has now been seamlessly interwoven, the thick, drone-like buzz enlivened by surprisingly catchy melodies, sort of Jesus & the Mary Chain meets Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
Listen close enough, and you can hear Jeffrey and Angela’s story on these tracks, from the sparking synth squiggles in “Hold on Tight,” their own meditation on the miracle of the birth of their son – which coincided with their debut album starting to take off – to “Break Even”, written in their touring van, a droning reflection of their gratitude for success and the inevitable highs and lows of following your passions.
The pair took advantage of the freedom of having their own studio to expand their songwriting and production capabilities.
“Elephant” is an ominous dirge about the push-and-pull of being together and the difficulty of communication that started as a lullabye, one of many they’ve penned for their own child. They traveled to Mexico City with inflatable elephants to film the accompanying music video. With picturesque land and cityscapes, they wanted to highlight the beauty of our neighbor country and its people. A timely statement during the current right wing border tensions.
“The Pink Chateau” with its intriguing Memphis soul undercurrent is a metaphor for either erotic desire or the lure of hearth and home itself.
“Bloodhands (Oh My Fever)” was inspired by the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO. A story they hoped would fade but continues to haunt with documented police violence and racial tensions that beg “tell me why we do it”. The song ends with the benediction of a soaring gospel choir, which was recorded in Grand Rapids and led by local music phenom Debra L. Perry. The music video is a surrealist cinematic endeavor touching on race and sexuality and how we will all end up in the hands of our children.
The story of this couple is rooted in their music – the thrill of finding one another, the pitfalls and setbacks along the way – are all exposed in the midst of seductive, slabs of buzzworthy pop that is at once a dream come true, and a glimpse at the reality within.
U Street Music Hall
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009
U Street Music Hall
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009