Vinny Miller

On the Block

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One of the most willfully opaque albums 4AD has released in years, Vinny Miller's debut album, On the Block, schizophrenically moves from folky singer/songwriterisms to sound collages to noodling instrumentals. Miller has already become something of a legend within the circles of 4AD aficionados; after being signed with the label for over five years, one of the few things Miller issued with them was "Dreamt U in a Dream," a track on the 1998 sampler Anakin, when he was still performing as Starry Smooth Hound. That song's intense emotionalism and revving guitars -- which suggested a far artier Jeff Buckley -- are still reflected in On the Block, but "Dreamt U in a Dream" is by no means adequate preparation for the rapid-fire shifts the album has in store for the listener. Miller's aim seems to be to keep anyone listening to On the Block in a constant state of disorientation; the brash "Yes/No Game," a snippet of dialogue from pirate radio, opens the album on a jarring note that is only amplified by the following track, "Breaking Out of Your Arms," a sensitive ballad that is the closest that Miller comes to his earlier work. The rest of the album follows suit, switching from introspective songs like "Roll Complete" to the strange, squeaky-voiced tomfoolery of "Millalude" and the guttural grunts and squeals of "Cromagno" without much warning. It would be easy to say that songs such as "Roll Complete" and "Bagged and Tagged," both of which sound a little bit like Nick Drake fronting the Beta Band, are the only tracks on On the Block that should be taken seriously, but an entire album of them would most likely be as dull as the actual album is challenging. Some of the flights of fancy work well with the more subdued songs: putting the oddball rock of "Bogeyeater" after the wispy instrumental "Afternoon Nod," for instance, prevents anyone from taking the title of the latter track too literally; "Hogbreath Busts a Move" provides one last fiery blast before the more contemplative "Alioth" and title track bring the album to a close. An often puzzling album, On the Block is the sound of Miller following his own bliss; even though he sometimes makes it hard for others to follow it with him, those who choose to might find its best moments even more precious for that reason.

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