Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's Empire of Dirt

An appealingly bummed-out troubadour slouches toward redemption

Life definitely handed Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson loads of lemons (and first names), but he chose Atmosphere's route and painted that shit gold on his self-titled amalgam of alt-country, blues, and garage grit. Even without firsthand experience of "tits dragging in the dust," you can't help feeling the ache in this multi-racial Brooklyn-via-Oregon troubadour's tenor. The 25-year-old's ruminations on homelessness, alienation, and trying (and failing) to kick drugs hark back to David Ryan Adams, Jeffrey Scott Tweedy, and Townes Van Zandt at their most downtrodden. Thankfully, Robinson's self-knowledge and self-conscious attempts to avoid veering into clichéd tortured-artist territory serve to cut the tension nicely: On "Buriedfed," he declares: "This is my last song about myself/About my friends/Find something else to sing."

A prevailing lo-fi looseness helps bolster the beaten-up nature of these songs, recorded by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor and magnified by a choir of dark souls, from fellow Grizzlies Chris Bear and Daniel Rossen to TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone. A glint of hope comes in the early going of "Mountaineer'd," which begins as an acoustic meditation wherein Robinson officially repents to God; as the song scales the steep slope of forgiveness sought, however, a gash within him widens: "My faith has gone faint." The discord of an electric guitar swells around him, and what began as a promising spiritual shift ultimately can't be resolved; and the next track starts that bipolar cycle all over again. A more harmonious balance (artistically, anyhow) is achieved on "The Debtor," which reaffirms Elliott Smith's notion that a catchy, tinkling piano can make any sort of despair sound optimistic. Getting hooked on Robinson's tales is a mixed sort of pleasure, though: It's easy to convince yourself that the dirt under his fingernails is also under your own, but only you can turn down the volume when it's getting too heavy.

M.B.A.R.,  despairing optimist
Sebastian Mlynarski
M.B.A.R., despairing optimist

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Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
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