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Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson Emily Moore , June 30th, 2009 05:14

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's self-titled album seems straightforward enough, as anguished, visceral debut albums go. Robinson is a raw-throated young singer-songwriter, backed up by ramshackle but beautifully layered instrumentation and endorsed by his Brooklynite friends and neighbours Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio (Kyp Malone and a few of the Grizzlies helped to record and produce the album). But he, and we, are dogged by press releases about a clever kid whose crumbling family life, NYU student debts - he turned down Yale - and old-fashioned addictive tendencies saw him spending most of his adult life ingesting and selling all kinds of substances, and sleeping on park benches in Coney Island for a summer. It's easy to be dismissive of a history that sounds so much like a Velvet Underground song, as Robinson knows. "If you don't already hate this story you will soon," he once snapped at an interviewer, and the album glistens with as much self-loathing as self-realisation.

Robinson flits between the stoned ennui of early Beck, the gallows humour of Shannon Hoon and the existential fury of Isaac Brock, and his croaky, mumbly, shouty vocals echo Brock's uncannily. He wavers in and out of tune alongside fuzzy guitars, rattling percussion, the odd music-hall piano line and sometimes an apocalyptic mountain of feedback, while his voice is looped and layered over itself, building a ragtag chorus of ghosts.

'Buriedfed', which opens the album, chases its tail through circular verses of regret, dependency and death, slowly building up from the twang of a lone acoustic guitar to bass, snare, kick drum, strings and finally a cacophony of clatter. On 'The Debtor', Robinson yelps the hard vowels like a strung-out Springsteen, while the softer syllables almost disappear: "It's so expensive, I'm not sure I want to stay alive - it's so expensive and it's cheap to die." 'Woodfriend' is almost lighthearted in its tired resignation: over a bouncy bassline and fuzzy, skittering electric guitar, Robinson deadpans, "Met this girl, she said, 'Hey boy, you're a death head, I bet you'd be all right in bed, still I'll take sleep instead.'"

But the album soon retreats into a darker corner, overflowing with desperation, fury and regret. "I know I've sinned," he wails on 'Mountaineerd' like a citified Micah P Hinson, before the near-invisible guitar line explodes into ponderous drone, angular thrashes and wordless moaning. Closer 'Boneindian' is a moment of shaky self-reflection, with watery vocals and strings echoing over acres of open space. It is a redemption song of brutal beauty, a cathartic snapshot of a period he's been fortunate enough to transcend.