Keba Robinson has been releasing music under the Crosslegged moniker since 2011, when she released the album Bad Body Language. In the Bandcamp liner notes, she describes the album — which sells for a steep $50 — as “[her] roots, made many moons ago.” It’s a no-frills, unglamorous sensibility that also permeates her work: the two songs on Blankets — a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End” and Karen O and the Kids’ “Hideaway,” mis- or re-spelled as “Hidaway” — are plainly introduced as “covers of songs I like,” while her latest, Another Blue, ends its slightly more elaborate liner notes with humble self-reflection: “I learned a lot.”
It’s obvious that she has. Compared to her scraggy beginnings, Another Blue positively glistens with studio xtravagance, as co-producer Carlos Hernandez brings a cleaner, more balanced sonic approach to Robinson’s characteristically insulated musical world. Admittedly, the loss of the genuinely shambolic energy which marked releases such as All My Plants are Communists — that EP’s opening track “Pretty Eyes” is a masterclass in lo-fi pop romanticism — is regrettable in an era where even a lack of polish has been reduced to cheap affectation. However, the album’s evocative songwriting works in tandem with the more refined production, making for an intimate, unique, and extraordinarily beautiful take on the indie folk sound.
“Heaven is Real” opens the album with a trippy art-pop groove and crooked harmonies. “Heaven is real when I’m with you,” sings Robinson against shimmering guitar chords. The languid tune manages to reference “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a refrain of “too much, too much, too much” sets in. The breezy “Automatic” follows, boasting an infectious chorus that eventually segues into a more abstract coda, filled with laid-back guitar strums and mellow organ drones. The crystalline production highlights not only the distinctive instrumentals — all arranged and performed by Robinson herself — but also the mysterious allure of the singer’s voice.
Lead single and album highlight “Only in The” grounds her elvish wail amidst tender xylophone clinks and a sparse drum beat. Robinson channels the vulnerability of Sugarcubes-era Björk as she grapples with unhealthy obsession: “I ride on, I die with you/It’s in my blood… You’ve got something to complete me.” Even so, she ultimately finds resolve as the track’s candied melody grows more exuberant, providing a backdrop for a mantra-like repetition of “I get up, get up, get up,” her delivery carrying both pain and a readiness for healing.
Aside from Robinson’s vocals, her sophisticated melodicism does a lot to make the less orthodox moments go down easy. Both “Down, Down, Down” and “Fire” are augmented by experimental flourishes — electronic drums and a slightly detuned organ tune on the former, a stuttering off beat on the latter — while sacrificing almost none of their pop appeal. In a similar vein, album closer “Rewind” brings things to a close with subtly discordant guitars, a staccato bass line, and a variety of sound effects. The lyrics of “It burns, it chews, it leaves a dent on you” are a refreshingly direct and unpretentious reflection on life that resists our culture’s constant barrage of toxic positivity without resorting to blithe pessimism. In spite of her apparent talent, Robinson has, so far, flown under the radar, a situation likely not helped by her seven-year hiatus from recording and performing after 2015’s Speck. It’s unlikely that the Queens-based songstress is all that bothered by her underground status, but Another Blue‘s gooey rhythms and confident, lingering weirdness might just put her on a path that takes her beyond the realm of obsessive music nerds and into the hands of a wider audience, clamoring for something that breaks the mold. Or perhaps she’ll end up retreating from the scene once again. But if years-long radio silence is what it takes for her to craft these singular songs, it will be well worth the wait.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 5.