What did you do last summer? It’s a simple question, really; enough to provide the plot of a Jennifer Love Hewitt film, written by the dude from Dawson’s Creek.
Simple unless you’re Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. Here’s his story from a couple summers ago, its pages turned in no particular order: Bitterness. Regret. Betrayal. Bouts of self-loathing. Burning buildings and falling bodies. Breakups and new beginnings. Numerology. And endless nights at the same Brooklyn bar—lots of last calls that drop you in the arms of another, in the death grip of decisions that are wrong in retrospect yet oh-so-right…right?
“The summer of 2007 was like that episode of Seinfeld, where everyone decides to do the opposite of what they’re supposed to do,” explains Robinson. “So instead of going home to your girlfriend or whatever at night, you’d just stay at the bar and let someone inappropriate take you home. It was a bad joke at first, like a terrible ’90s movie unfolding before our eyes. It became an awful unravelling. 2002 had it’s revenge.”
A movie you’ll want the DVD of later; a movie by the name Summer of Fear. It’s got a hell of a soundtrack, too, the culmination of years spent in eight-track studios, cypher-fueled jam sessions, and dicey club dates that often ended in fist fights and broken glass. Not to mention a revolving door of collaborators that helped Robinson work out the kinks in his skewed pop hooks and melancholic melodies, including the Grizzly Bear members (drummer Christopher Bear, multi-instrumentalist/producer Chris Taylor) who worked on Robinson’s self-titled solo disc several winters ago—the winter before the fear set in. As acclaimed as Robinson’s debut was when it finally received a proper pressing in 2008 (a CD-R version first infiltrated Brooklyn in late 2006), the effort was meant to be a glorified demo, a proper introduction to Robinson’s solo direction after the dissolution of his longest-running band, Jackson Plastic. Summer of Fear is what happened six months later, as life alternated between darkness and light, and spare bedroom songs blossomed into speaker-popping arrangements of sweeping strings, honking horns, and chords that cut so deeply they’re bound to leave a mark. A biting cross-section of Petty and Dylan, Pavement and Fleetwood Mac, delivering a eulogy to yesterday and the curtain-drawing promise of another day. Not just any day, either; a day Robinson’s determined to seize on an international stage, with a battered guitar by his side and a four-alarm fire in his chest.
“Listening to it now,” says Robinson, “It’s like someone banging on a door really hard, until they start throwing their shoulder into it….then someone on the other side simply opens it and on the next lunge the solicitor goes hurtling across the threshold. It’s well-produced, but there’s a lot of frustration and rage on the record. Every song has a point of catharsis.”
TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone—a close friend since the pair met en route to a Grizzly Bear show in 2005—helped bottle Robinson’s bruised hymns last winter, ramping up the tension in such standout tracks as “Death by Dust,” “Summer of Fear pt. 2,” “The Sound,” and the 11-and-a-half draining minutes of “More Than a Mess,” a haunting epic that deserves its own short film. (Or more than half of Side D; Summer of Fear is spread across two LPs like one of Robinson’s favorite records, Tusk.) Since they both “have a tendency toward a generally and hilariously doom stricken worldview,” Malone also understood what Robinson was going for with his redemption songs. After all, he was there that summer. He saw it all go down, and now that he’s heard the whole thing told through Summer of Fear’s relentless and raw tone poems, he can’t wait to see what Robinson comes up with next. (Robinson is desperate to record his third record—yes, already. Written last year in the midst of touring to support his unexpected self-titled debut, he describes the disc as containing,”actual songs…as opposed to vaguely melodic litanies of grievance.”)