I woke up this too early this morning, startled out of bed by the sound of my son screaming downstairs over his headset to his friends over whatever just happened during the masters round of Apex: Legends. After appropriately responding by taking his controller and throwing it outside, I made a pot of coffee, headed up to the office and looked for a record to put that would suitably chill me out and put me in a reflective mood suitable to the cold, wet day ahead. That album was Maxinquaye by trip-hop progenitor Tricky, and it counts for my Day 8 entry for the #mayvinylchallenge, which is the first album you put on this morning.
My landing on Tricky came later in my journey through trip-hop and its bordering neighbors. It started with Portishead back in college (I still maintain their Roseland NYC Live is one of the best live albums ever; alas, I don’t have it on vinyl…yet) then flitted briefly to Massive Attack who were riding high off the fact that “Teardrop” was the opening theme to the television show House. Then it moved over to bands like Morcheeba and Supreme Beings of Leisure and just…simmered. I pretty much got what I was searching for with that small group of artists, and other kinds of music were calling, so further explorations were put on hold.
Maxinquaye came up on my radar the second the opening bars to “Overcome” sounded off on a radio station one day decades later, and I found myself back in, although this time with the curiosity that came with an additional decade or so (emphasis on the “or so” part) of digging deeper into the whats and whys of music. So much of what Adrian Thaws, aka Tricky and his producing partner Mark Saunders do on Maxinquaye feels like the kind of experimentation the Beatles would concot during their heyday: weird pitch shifts and brown samples create a dark ambience, looping and loping in haunting strides towards resolutions that only lead down darker paths.
For an album built on samples and keyboards and assorted electronics it feels wonderfully organic, thanks in no small part to the sumptuous vocals of Martina Topley-Bird. She’s the glue that holds Maxinquaye together, and is no small reason that I think Tricky’s best work has her featured. Besides “Overcome” there’s the stellar performance on what is probably my favorite track, “Pumpkin” which feels lovely and sick and about to fall into a gaping abyss at moment, yet always manages to teeter on the edge.
Maxinquaye isn’t without its fair share of energetic rockers: both “Black Steel” and “Brand New You’re Retro” capture some rock fire, the latter reaching into Public Enemy territory with its samples from It Takes a Nation… as well as lifting the main riff from Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” And if you were diving into the genre back in 1995 it must have been a kick to hear Isaac Hayes sampled so iconically on both “Hell Is Round the Corner” here as well as “Glory Box” from Portishead’s Dummy. But my head lies with the way Tricky and co. are able to lay down a bed of smooth, dark sounds that envelop you in a way that allows you to drift away with your own thoughts while simultaneously inviting closer inspection to peel back the myriad layers of its deep production.
It also helps to drown out annoying teenagers early in the morning.