Music Reviews

Mikal Cronin MCII

(Merge) Rating - 8/10

It’s getting to be that time of year here on the Jersey shore where all the shiftless, wanna-be surfers start skipping out on class in favor of hitting the rocky sands of the beachfront. Indeed, being a stones throw away from the beach itself, it seems that with every passing day, fewer and fewer of my classmates remain in the lecture halls that have now become my eternal, academic tomb. Truth be told, I’m not particularly missing any of my “peers”, but I definitely envy them on some level. Personally, I’ve always had a difficult time separating myself from my studies and perceived ‘responsibilities’ long enough to cut loose and indulge in some truly mindless activities. That being said, it’s hard for me to tell which one of these cliques Mikal Cronin would best fit into -- the chilled out beach dwellers or the high-strung, far-away observers?

While MCII’s airy, sunshine pop is bound to become a staple in my summer playlist, it seems to be the farthest thing from a “worry-free” album. Lyrically speaking, Cronin is anything but filled with confidence. Uncertainty is the order of the day, with many of the record’s lyrics starting or ending with a question. "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 contemplates amidst the super-charged, arena-rock of Shout It Out. He seems to be looking for some sort of outside approval -- though not for the sake of guidance, but rather reassurance and comfort. It’s this sort of self-skepticism and artistic insecurity that’s hard to shake on his own, and thus he reaches out to others. However, even this seems to be a difficult task for Cronin.“Tell myself I’m better off alone / But I’ve been at the bottom for a long time”, he admits on Change -- Cronin seems to be one of us self-conscious neurotics after all!

Musically speaking, it’s kind of hard to believe any part of this album came from the same musician who worked on the unwieldy fuzz-fest heard on last year’s Slaughterhouse. Though, Cronin certainly does share some commonalities with his longtime collaborator Ty Segall, particularly a fondness for guitar solos, nasally vocals, and bombastic percussion. However, MCII sounds much more concise and meticulously assembled than any of Segall's efforts. Songs like Peace Of Mind and Piano Mantra seem less reminiscent of Segall’s psyched-out, distorted jiving, and more-so like the fledged-out, folk craftsmanship of Elliott Smith. 

Like Smith, Cronin has an acute awareness of texture -- applying layers of lush strings, brooding key-tickling, and even the delicate fluter of woodwinds to his songs. However, what’s more astounding is Cronin’s restraint -- how he avoids bogging down a track with ornamentation, leaving the skeletal structure of his songs unobscured and utterly raw. Don't Let Me Go feels particularly fragmentary, as we find Cronin shedding all of his dynamic and melodic acrobatics, and simply sitting in front of a mic with his acoustic guitar -- a statement just as powerful as any highfalutin opus.

I think I may have wrongly categorized Mikal Cronin -- I don’t think he would fit in with my fellow social voyeurs, tightly locked away from the world in our fortified, scholastic citadels. No, in fact, Cronin is way too optimistic to involve himself with my class of crotchety, no-fun spectators. While his lyricism may be masked by a surface-level melancholy, there’s actually a feint sense of optimism throughout the entirety of MCII. “The open arms are giving me hope”, he sings earnestly on the album closer, Piano Mantra. In a way, this line sums up the key difference between Cronin and somebody like me, or Elliott Smith, or even collaborator Ty Segall -- we see the world caving in on us and retreat away from the debris, whereas Cronin simply lets it fall around him, embracing the disaster for what it may or may not be.