The stage stood empty. Some tech men at Glasslands, the Williamsburg music room, asked each other when the previously heralded rocker Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson would appear at the autumn 2014 show. The doe-eyed musician suddenly took the stage, tested the mic, and began.
“He’s just a hero,/In a long line of heroes,” Robinson sang in his frail timbre. “And he won’t leave town,/’Til you remember his name,/He’s just a hero,/In a long line of heroes,/Looking for some lonely billboard to grace,” he continued in his rendition of Liz Phair’s “Soap Star Joe.”
If it weren’t for his sheer will, his almost compulsive desire to make music, Robinson might have very well disappeared into that billboard, just another light amongst the thousands on the Long Island Expressway en route to Manhattan.
Instead, after releasing two stellar albums and then all but vanishing, Robinson returns. His forthcoming “Stoned Weekend” (PaperCup Music, 2021), debuting as the group Drug Couple with his bandmate and wife, Becca Robinson, shows a forgotten but essential artist finally easing into himself with new love in his life.
The Oregon-raised Robinson, who divides his time between New York and Vermont, was an integral player in the city’s 2000s indie rock scene. With the help of Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear and Kyp Malone from TV On the Radio, Robinson released fiery rock records that endure with their intensity.
“Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson” (Say Hey Records, 2008) introduced an all-or-nothing songwriter with a knack for lines. After the bluesy opener, “Buriedfed,” the album segues into “The Debtor,” a perky song in which Robinson quakes, “Tried to kick on Tuesday,/But it didn’t succeed,/And the air was too thick to breathe.”
Perhaps not since Lou Reed had a musician so frankly yet sensitively discussed drug addiction and, like Reed, Robinson grips with his narratives. “I always liked stories in songs,” the thirty-nine-year-old Robinson says, some gray hairs splotched on his close cut.
A standout track, “Who’s Laughing?” emerges as a small-town tale in which he discovers the fair but says, “I ain’t goin’ dancin’,/’Cause I can’t even breathe,” while, on the the folk ballad “Written Over,” he delivers one of his most quietly devastating lines: “I was lookin’ at love,/She was laughin’ me down.”
It was the musician’s second album, “Summer of Fear” (Saddle Creek, 2009), however, where he peered wider and chronicled a perilous, desperate America. As Cormac McCarthy did with his novel, “Suttree,” Robinson shows ambling youths and roving adults in all of their ragged glory.
Produced by Malone who, around the time of the record’s release, called Robinson one of his favorite songwriters, Robinson’s sophomore record starts with the jittery “Shake a Shot” where he warbles, “Summer is gonna come,/It’s gonna bleach these bones.”
From the introduction, he traverses a muddy land where, as on “Always an Anchor,” “Somewhere back in my old hometown,/There’s an alright kid draggin’ an anchor around” and, on “The Sound,” there co-exist “a pervert and a priest.”
Still, the nearly twelve-minute-long “More Than a Mess” remains Robinson’s finest song. A spiritual sequel to Reed’s “Street Hassle,” the sprawling track begins, “Scene one,/Angeline walks on,” before offering a grim, finally jubilant portrait of teenagers in which “grieving is giving” and where, “In that dress,/Drunk and full of distress,/She was,/More than a mess” to him. His most transcendent and almost gospel-like composition, it nonetheless fell on closed ears.
“Summer of Fear,” in fact, received a surprisingly negative review from the influential music website, Pitchfork, and after his career ground to “a halt,” as he puts it, in the early 2010s, Robinson grew jaded with the music industry.
“The music industry is not about the music. It’s about the industry,” he says, explaining that overemphasis is put on image and money rather than songs themselves. When he did the photo shoots for “Summer of Fear,” for instance, he felt uncomfortable, his head elsewhere, perhaps just wanting to get back to his pad and pen. “It’s not about the music, and that’s all I ever really cared about.”
Back in the Studio
Aside from an occasional gig such as a small Knitting Factory concert and the Glasslands show, Robinson seemingly stopped making music. “I was doing all sorts of things,” he says, revealing that he worked as a carpenter and a woodsmith while alternating years between New York and Oregon.
One day, Robinson ran into a musician friend who urged him to get back in the studio and, since then, he has mostly been working as a producer and engineer at the CRC recording facility in Brooklyn.
It was there where he met his future wife, Becca Robinson, and formed the rock duo Drug Couple. Following their ‘90s pop-influenced debut EP, “Little Hits” (PaperCup Music, 2019) and the festive EP, “Choose Your Own Apocalypse” (2020), the band most recently released the new single, “Our December,” off their forthcoming debut album.
As he coos, “I don’t care, I can’t remember,/Anyway, it’s our December,” Becca dueting with him, Robinson hasn’t gone; he has found a new reason to sing.