Above and beyond everything else, Ben Trickey's fifth and latest offering, Rising Waters, is a breakup record. It's also the first album he's made in a studio. The glowing resonance of each instrument and the vulnerability in his voice ring out with clarity, sculpting the sentimental peaks and valleys of these 10 songs. From the anxious rush of emotions and acoustic jitters that set the record's tone on "The End of It All," to the lilting melodies packed into such numbers as "Dance Slow" and "The Running Ones," denial, depression, anger, and healing play out with heartbreaking tension. Vibrato hangs on every vowel that Trickey draws out when he sings, and when his melancholy ruminations transform from an exasperated growl to a scream, catharsis takes the reins.
It's a new vocal dynamic for Trickey, and while the passion in his delivery can, at times, walk a fine line between sincerity and schmaltz, he never allows melodrama to eclipse the emotional gravitas of the album. Rather than recoiling in pain over his sentimental apocalypse, Trickey reconciles his feelings with real-time perseverance.
It goes without saying that Trickey's wearing his emotions on his sleeve throughout Rising Waters, but the underlying narrative woven into such songs as "Don't Tell Anyone" and "Crescendo" — the latter being the most beautifully crushing song on the record — is about accepting the loss of love in a way that feels both naked and real.
Each song functions as its own chapter throughout Rising Waters, wrapped in allegories or disguised with such rich imagery that Trickey's use of language takes a bit of the sting out of his wounds along the way. But when he sings "No matter how thick your skin gets, the world will find a way to open up your veins and watch as you bleed all over it," on "Alright," the raw emotion on display becomes palpable.
Much of Rising Waters was penned and arranged by Trickey, and each song appears in the order in which he wrote them, underscoring the immediacy that drives the record. Will Raines, whose credits include piano, upright bass, cello, and accordion, had a hand in arranging the album's string parts, culminating in a marked change from the often noisy and lo-fi country tendencies of Trickey's 2010 LP Come On, Hold On.
Raines' talents shine the brightest on "Dance Slow." Together with vocalist Tiffany Leigh Blalock, who until recently sang with Atlanta-based Americana act Waller, the two add a climactic aural backdrop to Trickey's bellowing voice. The song's sometimes sweet, sometimes abrasive chorus swells to an ecstatic peak before crashing headlong into a sonic mire of tape hiss. It's an abrasive jump that makes nothing easy along this dense musical journey. At times Rising Waters feels like an apology, but the mordant lyrics and Trickey's forlorn poetry fall perfectly in lockstep with the album's sparse arrangements.
In many ways, Rising Waters summons a damaged, surreal darkness reminiscent of such post-songwriter fare as Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeney's Superwolf, or Low's Things We Lost in the Fire. Trickey's writing is unrefined by comparison, but he's on the right track. As such, Rising Waters is one of the most tense, atmospheric, and downright gloomy records to come out of Atlanta in a long time. It's a perfect match for its winter release date. Rising Waters' clear and personal sense of desolation are a means to an end, giving way to a slowly rising air of hope, making it Trickey's most compelling album yet.
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