September 23, 2009

Review: Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Summer of Fear

The music created by Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson isn’t easy to define. Or pigeonhole. He is without a doubt unlike any other contemporary artist, due largely to his voice. Like a vintage guitar amplifier, it’s an unpredictable instrument capable of channeling great emotion, with words emerging from the songsmith’s mouth quivering, shaking, in whispers and primal screams. An electrifying tool, that paired with nontraditional song structures, often seems to reveal the bare bones of the artist's soul.

TV On The Radio guitarist and singer Kyp Malone says of Robinson: “Like a lot of good music his songs feel like they are filling a predetermined space, like the ether was just waiting for him to connect the dots and give voice to them."

Malone produced the young musician’s sophomore record, Summer of Fear. The album is similar in style to its predecessor, but delivers a more refined sound and confidence, as if Malone brought a freshly sharpened batch of tools to work with. Previously tinny drums are more full-bodied; guitars take new and larger shapes; and most importantly, Robinson’s voice gets company. The stark contrast of sunny female vocals along Robinson's side brings an added emphasis to his own ragged words and results in some of the album’s brightest moments, including the choruses in “Death by Dust” and “Summer of Fear Pt. 1."

Much of the songs on Summer of Fear begin with the strum of a muted guitar, like quiet brushes of rhythm before the cataclysm of sound. “Trap Door” builds slowly in this fashion, growing louder from verse to chorus and bridge. Only after the climax of the second chorus, Robinson bridges to a new chorus with an even greater intensity: a coda in which the narrator reveals one can sink even lower than the “proverbial” bottom by way of a trap door. It’s a perfect pairing: absurdly dark lyrics over a polyphony of uplifting melodies.

Robinson’s imagery is nearly always dark (“It’s a hard enough time just trying to hang myself,” “love is a feeling you might not find with murder on your mind”) but paired with his playful use of words, rhyming, and sentence structure, the music somehow evolves into passionate and hopeful collages of sound.

The most immediately accessible track off the album is the up tempo “Death by Dust,” a song seemingly about young people’s difficulty in confronting and expressing emotions (“With our tongues tided tight to teeth / Hanging twenty years of flesh on a shoulder of sand”) and the cathartic capability of music: “When you’re young and the dust gets in your lungs / We steal songs that you had sung.” String arrangements explode over the final chorus amidst pounding drums and Robinson’s scratchy howls. Lyrically, nothing ever seems to be quite right in the world of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson or his characters, but sonically, there are few records that have made this quality of a racket.

Rating: Eternal happiness, throat lozenges, and the top spot in a few end-of-year lists.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - "Death by Dust" (from Summer of Fear)

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson


  1. Is it just me or does "death by dust" sound an awful lot like a dire strait song?Q

  2. Is it just me, or is this just another mediocre indie album with big names behind it?

  3. its just you