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Mikal Cronin's self-titled debut from 2011 was all about endings: the end of college, the end of a serious relationship, and the end of his time in Los Angeles, where he grew up. So it's no surprise that his sophomore release MCII and first disc for Merge Records is all about new beginnings. Since the first record came out, my life has changed quite a bit, Cronin says, referencing his move to San Francisco and tours with Ty Segall as well as with his own band. I was presented with a whole new slew of problems and situations that I was trying to work through. Am I Wrong and Shout It Out dissect his fears over a new relationship, while I'm Done Running from You and Weight find him freaking out about what it means to grow up in the 21st century. Other than these few exceptions, Cronin played all of the instruments. It all makes total sense to me, but when I step back, it sounds kind of schizophrenic, Cronin says. Hopefully it all sounds enough like me to make sense. // A debut that will fry your ears and break your heart. MOJO, on Mikal Cronin // Small, but near-perfectly formed. UNCUT, on Mikal Cronin
Top customer reviews
Mikal Cronin’s MCII is the closest thing I’ve heard to matching all of Cobain’s own descriptions, being similar in spirit to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York but more in tune with Cobain’s own desire to eschew the commercialism of grunge and play a more down-home brand of acoustic folk. As it turned out, Cobain shot himself, so we were denied hearing how he’d develop as a songwriter, but if you’re curious then MCII is probably the closest we’ll come to hearing Cobain’s unexplored musical leanings.
That’s not to say Mikal Cronin sounds exactly like the grunge legend – vocally, his natural register is higher and more nasally than Cobain’s but considering one of Cronin’s favourite albums is In Utero it’s easy to make comparison. Cronin’s grunge-rooted pop songcraft with added sprinklings of folk and balladry only serve to highlight the lineage to which he belongs, if not more so in his love of Beatlesque melodies and his many nods to scuzz punk and ‘60s sunshine pop.
As an accomplished bass player and member of other bands such as The Moonhearts and Ty Seagall, MCII is Mikal Cronin’s second album and marks the point at which I feel he’s finally ready to step out of the shadow of these other bands and forge a name for himself in his own right. His songwriting is faultless – the opening track ‘Weight’ literally soars from its lo-fi production values into almost Brian Wilson-esque grandiosity.
The acoustic intro of ‘Shout It Out’ erupts into a fuzz-addled racket with Cronin’s plaintive vocals leading the charge and the garage rock thrash of ‘Change’ soon takes a 180° turn by unexpectedly introducing orchestral strings into the mix. ‘See It My Way’ saddles up on a Nirvana-esque riff and rides off into jangle pop land with a crazy saxophonist and ‘Am I Wrong?’ sounds like The Beach Boys dropping acid at Haight-Asbury circa 1969.
The alt-country violins in ‘Peace of Mind’ only further entrench the diversity on Cronin’s musical palette and there’s even a piano ballad in the aptly titled ‘Piano Mantra.’ In its essence, this is a power pop album by a Nirvana acolyte who just so happens to be a terrific indie songwriter. For that reason alone, MCII deserves to be heard.
It's a remarkably mature album for such a young man to make - the album opens with the line "I've been starting over for a long time.....", shades of a seventeen year old Jackson Browne singing "Please don't confront me with my failures - I have not forgotten them" all those years ago. Musically the songs are beautifully crafted power-pop gems, all lilting vocals and sweeping harmonies, and a dreamy, hazy 1970s vibe pervades throughout. The violin used on various tracks gives the songwriting an added depth, and the closing Piano Mantra hints, as the above review suggests, at all sorts of interesting new directions he could choose to take in future. Anyone expecting a rehash of his work with Ty Segall will be in for a surprise, but those seeking some real grown up pop are in for a treat. Outstanding.
Anyone expecting a collection of frayed sonics will be disappointed then, for MCII is a largely optimistic collection of 10 punchy garage-pop tracks on the theme of new beginnings. "Shout It Out" and "Am I Wrong", for example, tackle the joys and anxiety associated with a new relationship, the sunny surf in the former ringing out between charming power-pop choruses just dandy for the upcoming summer and the fuzzy piano-pop of the latter trying and failing to conceal a sting in the tail courtesy of a shredding Segall cameo.
Speaking of guest appearances, fellow Ty Segall Band alumnus Charlie Moothart (equally of The Moonhearts) dials in the drums for a couple of tracks including the wonderfully racing "Turn Away". And so too does recent Thee Oh Sees collaborator K Dylan Edrich contribute strings on MCII, her country violin a striking counterpoint to Cronin's strumming on the unassuming "Peace Of Mind" - a timely reminder of Cronin's capacity to be more than adept when understated. Even still, he's in pretty uncharted waters come the purely acoustic lament "Don't Let Me Go", a statement made all the more vulnerable when surrounded by the likes of fun-time piano-popper "Weight".
If "Don't Let Me Go" is unexpected, then the closer "Piano Mantra" sounds like the work of a different artist entirely. Opening with just downbeat piano, emotive strings and a fragile vocal, the far-reaching direction of the track's later Americana-esque arrangement suggest at a new-found confidence thanks to Cronin's recent Bachelor's qualification in Music, the inventive use of roaring distortion in the final parts of the mix concrete proof of his scholarly talents. Should this late shift be indicative of future developments in the Mikal Cronin sound then it should be fascinating to see what he does next.
Advised downloads: "Piano Mantra" and "Shout It Out"
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
If you are a fan of either Power Pop or Ty Segall, you should definitely give it a try.
The first track, "Weight" is an immediately likeable tune, flirting with sounds that echo both the Beach Boys and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Maybe Cronin's guitar sound isn't quite as distorted and feedback-laden as vintage JAM Chain, but they are the band whose sound I hear echoed most often on this album. I also would agree with comparisons to Redd Kross and Tommy Keene on a few songs too. Cronin seems quite adept at blending these myriad influences to create an engaging sound, and he is certainly churning out some pretty good tunes in the process. I'm not totally blown away, but quite impressed. I'll be eager to hear more music from this guy.
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