Thursday, January 14, 2010

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, "Summer of Fear"

Published 10/27/2009
WERU Online

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, the Brooklyn based singer-songwriter, popped up in my life around March of last year, ruminating around the fleeting winter months. With his obnoxiously long name, shortened sweetly to MBAR, I fell in love with his freshman, selftitled album. In hearing his first single, “Buriedfed,” I thought, “Wow, this could plausibly be a new favorite of mine,” and in my world, an iPod filled with 20,000 songs, that can be a monumental statement. His voice is memorable. Both soft and loud, MBAR halfwhispers behind a little folk guitar riff at one point, then hollers behind some loud unidentifiable banging. I love its hollowness; you could imagine this artist in a basement playing around with recording equipment. When I found out that MBAR had put out a second album, I was ecstatic, then curious when I found out he’d been signed to Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records. But when I heard the finished product, I was utterly disappointed

Now, I love Saddle Creek and nearly anything Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk and Mystic Valley band frontman Conor Oberst can creatively conjure up as he did with Saddle Creek in 1993. However, with the switch to this album, the all over sound and feel of MBAR has completely shifted. He doesn’t sound as sleepy or as unhappy to get out of bed. His voice has been cleaned up and polished. Yes, on his first album the production sounded a bit sloppy, but I loved it.

The band’s instrumentation has now geared up to a more popular, diversified and cooperative sound. In the cut “Always an Anchor,” the guitar parts inspire more hopping around than feet dragging. Some songs sound a bit like 70s rock ballads equipped with keyboard chorus, as in “The Sound.” The keyboard says hello some more in “Hard Row,” where MBAR’s grunting “ I love” tries to offset the prettiness a bit, along with some strange noises and a shaker for a bit of spice.

Saddle Creek bands seem to have remarkable talents for slide guitar. The general structure in this album consists of a different build up. Many of the songs in his first album started off strong on slide guitar, building higher and higher, only to subside for the next track. That was perhaps the main mystique of his first album, a sense of falling apart that reflected the mood of each piece.

If general music connoisseurs wonder in which genre this album belongs, I have no idea how to satisfy them. Pop-folk? Pop-rock? Something about this music avoids categorization, which may make it more interesting. With each listen, however, I hear more and more classic rock. In this sense, this album bridges the gap between two generations -- those still tapping their toes to Lynard Skynard , and those thirsting for some alternative modern rock. A horn section introduced in “The 100th of March” doesn’t necessarily make it fuller, but more dissonant, which is okay. In “Gold and Grey” the percussion and lead guitar parts in conjunction with one another create a kind of rock that isn’t New York, but more a sweet non-home Alabama. Introduced, too, are some incredibly high soprano female harmonies in “Summer of Fear, Pt. 1.” (something I would have never expected from listening to their first album). The rambling country voices that introduce “More Than a Mess” are a bit jarring. Overall though, there is a more polished and less hollow, standing-in-a-room while singing-and-playing quality to each track (thanks most likely to Pro Tools).

What is MBAR trying to say, exactly? Literally and figuratively, it beats me. Though I find his voice to be one of my favorites, his diction leaves me unaware of what to hum when I sing in the car. One can tell, though, it is not a happy-go-lucky record. The downer title “Losing 4 Winners” consists of words you can pick out – “dreams you had, pain, words, fuck.” Inevitably, with an album title like Summer of Fear, I’m just guessing at the emotion. The backdrop the music lays then seems out of place and trite. Out of that context, though, this album is okay. I can imagine almost anyone cleaning a kitchen to it. We all know how everyone loves that.

Suggested – Summer of Fear Pt 2, Boat

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