Marta & Tricky: When It’s Going Wrong

In 2017, on the opening night of his European tour, the British trip-hop veteran Tricky quickly needed someone to fill in on vocals. A promoter suggested Marta Złakowska, who was then working at a bar in Krakow. Marta, a well-trained jazz singer, was a quick study and joined Tricky first on that tour, then on recordings with his label False Idols. With this partnership, Marta joined a decades-long line of storied trip-hop producer-vocal pairings—most famously, in Tricky’s case, Maxinquaye with Martina Topley-Bird. Comparisons between the two singers abounded and seemed near-inevitable: their similar origin stories, their smoke-curl voices. But Marta is an even more low-key presence, almost ephemeral. On her arrestingly spare debut album, she’s found a sound to match. 

When It’s Going Wrong does a lot with very little. The nine-track album lasts barely over 19 minutes—a downright astonishing runtime, given how developed and complete it sounds. Tricky’s arrangements, inventive and fast-shifting as ever, account for part of this, but the credit also lies in Marta’s gift for beckoning you into the mood. The album follows a fairly direct line from Tricky and Marta’s 2020 project Fall to Pieces, and the two records’ lead tracks—here “Intro,” then “Thinking Of”—are remarkably alike, sharing a stark arrangement of a few low synth notes repeating pendulum-like. But on “Intro,” Tricky slows and pares back the production even more, the riff reduced to two notes from three. Marta’s vocal is fast and insistent alongside it, pushing against the arrangement until that arrangement abruptly goes silent. 

This is the album’s feel: all tension, little climax, and little need for it. “When It’s Going Wrong” is a study in almost agonizing restraint, with instrumentation that sounds more like insinuation and lyrics that leave most things unsaid. When Marta sings “Call me when it’s going wrong,” murmuring over a creeping, unchanging tempo, it sounds like an omen—maybe even a threat. In these sub-two-minute tracks, Tricky’s production somehow finds room to shift and intensify the mood—a string interlude on “Nowhere,” a few sudden moments of drum-and-bass on “Today”—and also to fall quiet all of a sudden, as if someone’s changed their mind. On “Swimming Away,” the album’s slinkiest and most uptempo track, Marta and Tricky trade spoken-word lines over what sounds like the faintest possible disco. It, too, grows hushed in its final moments.

When It’s Going Wrong is less emotionally raw than Fall to Pieces. Instead, almost every lyric imagines moving without progressing: pushing through water, sinking into quicksand, going nowhere. Perhaps this theme is what drew Marta to the first of two covers on the album: “Today,” a downtempo version of a Jefferson Airplane cut that’s part glowing love song, part confused revelation. Marta pulls the track away from its folk-rock sunshine into a dimmer place. Simply by replacing the choral backing vocals with Tricky’s husky whisper, the original song’s singalong becomes something more like a private confession. 

The second cover closes the album: “Czarno Czarny,” a Polish folk song. Suddenly a brighter tone is set: a major key, a bell line chiming in unison with the melody, a runtime that’s among the longest on the album. The simplicity brings to mind something Tricky said, talking up his collaborator: “Marta doesn’t care about being famous, she just wants to sing.” It’s exactly how she works: casually conjuring a seductive vibe, then just as nonchalantly letting the tension fade.

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Marta & Tricky: When It’s Going Wrong