There is a shadow on the back of the CD booklet to Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's album, "Summer of Fear"(Saddle Creek Records). It's a decade-old photo taken in New York from one of the World Trade Center towers, which cast a long shadow over the city below.
It's a haunting image, given what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. The day the towers fell was one of Robinson's most formative experiences. He was 18 years old and lived just six blocks from ground zero.
"It was a very strange day," Robinson says, calling on his lunch break from his day job as a freelance carpenter. "My roommate's birthday was the night before, and I had not been able to sleep. I remember looking at the clock at 7:40 a.m. and finally falling asleep right after that. Then the phone started ringing nonstop, and I heard this weird noise. My roommate came and said, 'You've got to come to the roof right now.' So I did and...We were close enough to see people jumping."
Robinson has to pause before continuing.
"It wasn't until about 2006 that I could start thinking about this again, to accept that it had happened," he says. "That image...It still chokes me up a bit to talk about."
While Sept. 11 is more subtext than subject, "Summer of Fear" is steeped in that day's emotional aftermath, which lingered for years in New York. The album's overall vibe is one of retreating inward in the face of cataclysmic events. And yet "Summer of Fear" still feels cut out for movie screens.
Robinson says that he and producer Kyp Malone (from his fellow Brooklynites TV on the Radio) were going for a "mid-'70s-sounding Fleetwood Mac sound," and "Summer of Fear" plays like the classic rock that someone who grew up on the stuff would make. There is an epic, dramatic sprawl to the songs, which deal with guilt and recrimination in the finest Elvis Costello tradition - and Robinson's keening voice cuts like a razor blade, issuing forth a torrent of angry, wounded words.
You're not saying that you don't care
Just that you won't be there
Comb your lips and wet your hair
As if you even cared...
Of love and fear
"Summer of Fear" is a cinematic song cycle about a collapsing relationship, which fell apart during the summer of 2007. Someone named "Angeline" pops up in more than one song (a fictitious name he picked, Robinson says). And once again, the CD booklet provides a visual marker. The front cover has a photo of Union Pool, a nightspot in Brooklyn where Robinson worked out many of his personal as well as musical issues.
"I used to play there a lot, particularly during the summer of fear," Robinson says. "Calling it that started out as a joke, but then I realized it was in fact the 40-year anniversary of the summer of love. So it ended up being funny. The ex I was going through all the drama with, her favorite album was this 'Summer of Love' collection."
Or as he sings it:
It's your Summer of Fear
Might last a month, day, a week, or a whole damn year
Can you feel it drawing near?
Robinson clearly lived as well as wrote these songs, but he'd be happy to make do without the verisimilitude. His real-life exploits have gotten as much attention as his music. And if he had it to do over, he would have been more circumspect about a lot of things.
"If anything, the real-life drama has had a negative influence on my writing, because I often feel like I need to address that as opposed to focusing on the craft," he says with a trace of weariness. "That's my big regret of this record. I've had to address a lot of things that were going on in my life when I was writing it, but that have no interest or relevance whatsoever to me at this point."
So if you've moved on from the time and events that yielded these songs, is it hard to get back into that headspace to perform them?
"It's harder than I'd like," he admits. "But not as hard as I feared it would be right before the album came out. Some of the stuff does get to me, still. When you're focused on something like making a record, you've got to be open to everything going on around you."