Anthony slipped off the Pointer Sisters 45 we had been playing at 33 and said “I don’t know.” His basement smelled like slept in sheets sitting next to the hamper and I felt like we were in highschool, sneaking Narragansett tallboys because his father did not approve of beer in the house. When he came down stairs, I hid mine behind the subwoofer; Anthony just kept his in his hand; nobody said anything, and then, after pulling something out of a file cabinet, his father left.
Anthony said “I don’t know,” agreeing with me about the Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson album The Summer of Fear.
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (from this point forward MBAR) had released a debut album in the year 2008 which bruised the moment it landed. That self titled album sounded like the kind of hallucination you have before you die from chugging varnish. I misheard nearly every lyric on that album, thought good luck was stabbing you in the face when it was actually just staring, thought “goddamn I’m tired of being bled” was about exhaustion with whatever pressure comes from being one of exactly 5 black dudes in indie rock today. The reason for these misunderstandings was because Robinson’s first album bleeds your ears, and also because the album throws its voice around. The album was produced by Chris from Grizzly Bear, and one of the most notable production touches comes in the vocals. Multiples of Robinson’s voice stream through those songs, which has an effect simultaneously comforting (because it makes the whole thing feel like a band effort, which, to be honest, is all smoke and mirrors), and also disorienting.
I had said, “I mean, I want to like it, but every song sounds the same, and to be honest, there are just too many of them.” refering to The Summer of Fear, MBAR’s second album, and Anthony said “I don’t know,” maybe agreeing with me, maybe subtly disagreeing but too tired to argue. We had trouble starting the fire, and we had both forgotten about our room temp beers and also about switching the records, as talk turned from the time we had lived since graduating college to the music we had listened to in that time.
The next morning I had a terrible stomach ache as the train sped me across Connecticut back to new york. I can’t quite say why, maybe because of the way Anthony had said “I don’t know,” but I decided to relisten to The Summer of Fear. And here’s the thing, this is a great album, in some ways possibly more emotionally scraping than MBAR’s debut, due to a stripping away of all excess sound. The first time I listened to The Summer of Fear, my thought was that those extra vocal tracks on his previous album had, in many ways, covered up what a terrible vocalist Robinson was. The Summer of Fear put Robinson’s voice right up front, with all of it’s cracking and tightness and stretching and breaking. The man has a voice that is intentionally loud and blunt, it hits you in the same way Daniel Johnston, Blake Schwarzenbach, or PJ Harvey do.
The other problem I had originally had with The Summer of Fear was that it was just too much; 13 track, two of those parts 1 and 2 of a suite, another 12 minutes long. Not only that, but repeated melodies, and the fact that there are only so many major chord combinations made a lot of the songs on this album initially bleed into one another. On my most recent listen, highlights leapt out at me, from the smirking “Always an Anchor,” to the devastating slow melting of “More Than A Mess.”
And now I’m going to revise what I just wrote, because all of these songs actually do feel the same, but in a way that is unrelenting and not at all monotonous. Robinson’s drug use and the isolation that both caused and was caused by those drugs is all that these songs are about. Despite The Summer of Fear’s warmer melodies and more upfront production, being able to easily decipher the lyrics of these songs means you instantly realize how trying and desperate they are. Here’s an example:
Somewhere back in my old hometown
there’s an alright kid dragging an anchor around.
It looks a lot like a frown.
Goddamn it’s hard to turn an anchor upside down
When smile ain’t a smile, just some teeth messing with your mind.
In the middle of the night
she calls up to say that she’s alright
Something breaks inside me every time I breathe
longing to laugh about it, but instead I grieve.
Anthony stared off into space, probably too tired to actively defend his reluctance towards my cheap shots about an album he may have likes , but I’m happy he did, in a small way. It took me a while, but as of right now I can’t recommend The Summer of Fear enough.