Vinny Miller

It’s difficult to know where to start with Vinny Miller. In certain circles he’s already acquired semi-legendary status - after all, he managed to spend the best part of five years signed to 4AD without delivering a note of music to the label. And now that an album has finally arrived, it’s so otherworldly, so bountifully strange that most points of reference are just exercises in futility.

About the man himself there’s little to tell. He lives in Dorset these days, having spent a few penurious and ever-so-slightly self-destructive years in various scruffy parts of London. Interested parties are perhaps better off abandoning biography and scrutinising the recordings, where there are clues to be found, half-buried, swathed in static

For a start, this is man who chooses to break his epic silence with something as baffling, perturbing and hilarious as “The Yes / No Game”. It’s a fleeting scrap of pirate radio snatched from London’s teeming midnight skies and preserved in eerie aspic, with Vinny barely audible as the stoned, wary weirdo at the other end of a crackling phone line. But the following track - “Breaking Out Of Your Arms” - immediately changes the picture, and with it, “On The Block” blossoms bewitchingly into life

“Breaking Out Of Your Arms” is a heartbreakingly fragile and disarmingly simple ballad, Vinny’s fractured falsetto emerging from a haze of tape noise and bringing with it the gift for genuinely haunting, utterly surreptitious melodic invention that surfaces throughout the album. But “Breaking Out Of Your Arms” is only half the story - or less. Vinny’s debut single “Pigpen” - released as a limited edition, 7” only single in the summer of 2003 - reveals something else entirely - it’s a dense, grindingly rhythmic explosion whose violence is barely held in check, and its stark emotional impact is as as arresting today as Tim Rose’s baying and bellowing on “Morning Dew” was forty years ago.

Take these two songs together, and a picture starts to come into focus - of an unusually gifted singer who refuses to be content with stock manoeuvres. “On The Block” is the sound of a man pushing things as far as he can, constantly shifting away from the easy option - in short, there’s a ferocious, driven playfulness at work. Like “Cromagno”, a multitracked, slavering howl which is barely endurable even for its brief 30 second span. But listen carefully to the barnstorming, visceral “Hogbreath Busts A Move” - slotted into its place in the mix, that howl is resolved into a deranged Beach Boys harmony vocal, all flashing teeth and gleeful energy.

Elsewhere the mood is one of glacial introspection - “Afternoon Nod”’ is a dazed, digital drift which foreshadows the emotional numbness of “Alioth” - but Vinny never lets these periods of stasis languish undisrupted. “Afternoon Nod” gives way to the album’s most violent moment, the turbulent, churning “Bogeyeater”, whilst “Alioth” eventually strengthens and surges with thrilling certainty.

And at the end comes “On The Block”, a stately, dreamlike strum laced by some some truly otherworldly singing, Miller’s falsetto climbing to seemingly impossible heights and vanishing into the stratosphere. It’s a magical, unsettling conclusion to an album which somehow manages to remain ungraspable. And just as it’s difficult to know where to start, it’s difficult to guess where it will finish. For now, though, “On The Block” is a tantalising postcard from unmapped territory.

“On The Block” is released on April 19th 2004.
  1. On The Block
    Vinny Miller
    On The Block

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