Having been following the San Francisco garage rock scene over the past few years, Mikal Cronin immediately caught my attention, due to his distinctive voice and infectiously catchy melodies. He released his first, eponymous, LP in 2011, on which he collaborated with fellow San Franciscan rockers Ty Segall, and John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees.
In this new album, MCII, released in spring 2013, Mikal Cronin tones down the loudness and the fuzz, pursuing instead a mostly sunny and pop flavour of garage rock. Fuzz, energy bursts, noise and feedback are, of course, present, but are very carefully and aptly employed, precisely when extra punch is needed to buoy a song forward.
Far from exuding similar levels of confident control, the lyrics convey a very relatable quarter-life-crisis state of mind, riddled with uncertainty, self-doubt and honest confusion. The great thing about this record is that all this critical introspection never slips towards self-pity, and is in fact carried on high-energy vibes, with the hooky upbeat melodies actually rendering the record punchy and optimistic.
Opener ‘Weight’ is truly an all-around great song. It features well-crafted and instantly memorable melodies, coupled with self-reflective lyrics on struggling with new starts (“I’ve been starting over for a long time/ I’m not ready for another day I fail at feeling new”). The tracks ‘Am I Wrong’ (originally released in 2011/12 and polished-up for this record) and ‘Shout It Out’ also feature giddy pop melodies and lyrics that deal with self-doubt and second thoughts.
Slower, moodier tracks are also present on this record, and these often feature folksy string sections. The record closer, ‘Piano Mantra’, is one such song, and a great example of Cronin’s earlier-mentioned aptitude in deploying fuzzy energy bursts exactly when needed. This song starts with solo piano, in an almost Philip Glass-esque tone in the first few seconds. It then gradually develops into a beautifully weary, contemplative ballad, in the vein of Yuck’s 2010 song ‘Automatic.’ As the song progresses, it builds up through the gradual introduction of extra layers; strings come in, later followed by drums with acoustic guitar, which add some bounce to the rhythm, and then screechy feedback and fuzzy guitar kick in and the song really takes off. And once all that energy is diffused, as if pulling himself together again, Mikal Cronin slowly wraps up the song, in a composed and quiet manner.
Overall, this is a truly great, original and very honest album, with the build-up and quiet anticlimax at the end leaving you with a longing to play the record over again.
One of the best albums of 2013.
MCII was released on the 7th of May on Merge Records