Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, 'Summer of Fear' (Saddle Creek)

Critical Mass
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by David Marchese

On his self-titled 2008 debut, singer-songwriter Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson sounded like it was all he could do to hold himself together long enough to sing about falling apart. Though that album's postaddiction, confessional howl was one of the year's most darkly magnetic listens, it was also cause for artistic concern. The idea of this man making optimistic music seemed silly, and songs even more heartsick were hard to fathom. Where was he going to go?

Robinson's solution, arrived at with production help from TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone (replacing Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, who worked on the debut) was to redecorate his hellhole. The gripping, gorgeous Summer of Fear trades fractured gray folk for multihued and ambitiously arranged Americana. To hear the swooping strings on "Summer of Fear pt. 1" or the stately horns parading across the 11-minute "More Than a Mess" is to witness catharsis crafted with both passion and smarts. Each of the album's tracks is graced with a carefully calibrated vocal, cunning melody, and clever structure.

Lyrically, Robinson still seesaws between accusation and pity ("I don't know anybody who couldn't let me down," from "The 100th of March," passes for a worldview), so it remains to be seen if he's capable of doing more than excavating his pain. I think so. I hope so.

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