Nika Danilova (Zola Jesus) Talks Tricky’s False Idols

Not even halfway through the first song, and a dense wave of nostalgia runs down my spine. Oh Tricky, how you remind me of being a bitter backwoods...

Not even halfway through the first song, and a dense wave of nostalgia runs down my spine. Oh, Tricky, how you remind me of being a bitter backwoods teenager during those deep, hot nocturnal summers. When nights turned into days turned into nights, locked in my bedroom on IRC, burning eyes from source code, playing Half-Life, overdue library books, disintegrated headphones as peripheral body part. Those moments when no future or past existed, just one long humid night that had no end. Maybe it was the flickering solitude of insomnia, but it felt like a dark, quiet, murky forever.

I’m glad to find Tricky back in classic form here on his tenth album False Idols.  From the perspective of an artist, I can understand how, once you are defined by a certain style, you begin to rebel against expectation. Maybe you’re fighting to prove a sense of multidimensionality, or maybe you simply grow bored of a process that comes too easily.  I can only speculate as to why Tricky, since the turn of the millennium, has made so many failed experiments to push himself and his music.  But I don’t fault him for trying. In fact, the real problem lies in the artists who refuse to grow and challenge themselves.

Even a well-established artist can become vulnerable to the modern tricks of his or her new peers in an effort to maintain relevancy; but False Idols shows no sign of this. Tricky comes across as confident in his process.  I know he’s been through the gamut of trial and error in leaving his comfort zone.  But some of the songs here feel fresh, sexy, dark, and very true to the roots of his stellar 1995 debut Maxinquaye. “Nothing’s Changed” has this nighttime quality to it, with a militaristic trip-hop beat anchoring languid string synths; the minor key dirge pulls the music (and mood) inward.  So it’s true when Francesca Belmonte croons “Nothing’s changed/I still feel the same.” Tricky may be a curious experimenter, but in the end he knows where his strengths lie, and we learn here he’s not afraid to own up to that power. It’s been so long since he’s given us such a pure concentration of his assets that maybe this was the most provocative thing he could’ve done.

There is more than a handful of great hooks on this album. The obvious highlights to me are “Nothing Matters” and “Nothing’s Changed” which bring me back to those long summer nights as a nihilistic kid writing pranks in binary. Other standouts are “Is That Your Life,” “If Only I Knew,” and “Bonnie & Clyde,” which carry a concise and confident groove, without sacrificing gravity.

While the album does tend to lean a little too close to twee in some parts, as in the collapsed chanson “Chinese Interlude,” I’m willing to forgive that (and repurposing “My Funny Valentine” on “Valentine” and Patti Smith on “Somebody’s Sins.”) for all the other surprisingly great songs on this album. Tricky says he stands behind every track on this album, and I can see why — so many of these songs are straight-up infectious. Twenty listens in, I’m still enjoying it as if it were the first time.

If anything Tricky has come full circle with False Idols. The year 2013 was the perfect time for him to release an album like this one. As so many young musicians, like Emika and the XX, have since been carrying the torch for his low-key, downtempo aesthetics, Tricky is in good form to return to his rightful throne.

Nika Danilova records under the name Zola Jesus. You can follow her on Twitter here.