This record almost snuck past me. A friend recommended it to me 2 days before it came out, with the preface that I would fall in love with it, even though I couldn’t own it yet. They were right.
I knew nothing about Mikal Cronin. I didn’t know that he spent most of the last 2 years collaborating with Ty Segall, has a BFA in Music or that he grew up in Orange County. Quite frankly, most of that means nothing to me. But when I listened to this record for the first time, I decided I needed to know more about this man and the music that he creates. MCII is Cronin’s Merge debut and his second solo, showcasing his ability to craft beautifully austere pop songs, while paying homage to his garage rock roots and inspirations.
Lyrically this record is full of hesitancy, but it’s actually a good thing. Like most 20-somethings, Cronin is unsure of so many things in his life. “Shout It Out” perfectly sums up a lot of the restlessness in the very beginning with “Do I shout it out?/ Do I let it go?/ Do I even know what I’m waiting for?/ No, I want it now/ Do I need it, though?” Cronin knows that there’s an answer to these questions out there somewhere, but he’s not even sure how to go about finding the answer, let alone making a decision about it. This anxiety over figuring out what will come next is what makes MCII such a beautiful record. The perfect blend of powerpop harmonies, elegant string arrangements and understated fuzz guitar come together under Cronin’s insecurities to showcase Cronin’s songwriting and arrangement talents.
The strings in “Peace of Mind”, provided by Thee Oh Sees contributor K. Dylan Edrich, are the perfect counterpoint to Cronin pleading “Can I help you?/ Can I try?” Edrich also brings a sensitivity to “Change” that begins with the more familiar and harsh guitar sound usually exhibited by Cronin but builds into a dramatic feedback and strings orchestration that creates an urgency and desire that would make any balladeer proud. “Don’t Let Me Go” also showcases a beautifully vulnerable Cronin, with a sparse and simple arrangement that Cronin recorded in his home consisting of just vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar. The only thing he’s sure of on this record is in this song. When Cronin sings “You’re all I know…” in his delicate falsetto, he’s making it clear that he needs this person back in his life to help him with all of the other uncertainties he’s facing. “Piano Mantra” ends the record with the perfect blend of subtlety and craftsmanship that marks the rest of the record. Simple piano chords and Mikal’s “I’m tired, I’m sick” slowly builds as strings, guitar and a little drum are layered in until it finally swells into a gorgeous sustained guitar that gives way to emphatic strings driving the tension and the powerful release when all of these things finally come together and eventually fades back into the simple beauty of Cronin’s voice and the piano.
MCII will appeal to anyone that loves good harmonies, beautifully layered arrangements and lyrics that are constantly questioning everything you think you know about yourself. Several of these songs will probably end up on movie soundtrack, while teenaged couples scamper about a stark, city landscape to a beautiful but frantic song that is supposed to perfectly illustrate the beauty of not knowing where you’re going to be in 5 years. At one point Cronin sings “Can you hear me, or is it in my mind?” The answer is yes, we hear you, and it’s beautiful.
Mikal Cronin will be at The EARL on June 23, 2013. Click here for tickets!