Mikal Cronin is the ultimate Californian.
That’s not a joke. Cronin cut his teeth in the amplifier-crammed garages of Laguna Beach with BFF Ty Segall, graced the cover of SF Weekly and the rooftop of Amoeba Music in Hollywood, and writes songs that sound like the tanned lovechildren of psychedelic San Francisco, distortion-heavy Orange County and sunny Los Angeles. See what I mean? Even Miss California can’t compete.
These California roots add an interesting dynamic to his latest outing, given that MCIII’s back half consists of a six-song suite rehashing his time in the Pacific Northwest. Cronin credits Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love as inspiration, and to see him break new ground within the traditional album format rather than rehash old glory prompts a serious sigh of relief.
And when I say old glory, I mean it. 2012’s MCII left Pitchfork swooning and had Michael Roffman gushing, “Fuck this album’s a blast,” in his review for Consequence of Sound. But impressing the hell out of everybody comes at a hefty price – you either have to fill your own shoes with that next album or at least die trying.
Rest assured: he fills them. The five non-suite tracks that comprise the first half are both well constructed and downright delightful. Cronin goes heavy on the strings, cranks up the 70s Tom Petty vibes on “Made My Mind Up”, and adds horns in all the right places. “Say”, the undisputed standout of the first half, holds you captive with anticipation thanks to a drum-driven intro and leaves you reeling thanks to a mega-guitar outro. Cronin thinks and writes in crescendos, which may be why the understated “I’ve Been Loved” packs less of a punch.
Let’s talk about that suite, which may go down as the most interesting and/or moving and/or amazing set of connected songs you hear all year. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Cronin spends the six songs wrestling with loneliness while exploring the complex emotions and experiences that solitude and togetherness inspire. The best part? He doesn’t err on the side of the clichéd, the corny, or the just plain lame. If you’re expecting six sad ballads strummed out and strung together, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, thank God.
The suite opens with “Alone”, which opens with orchestral strings and a crippling case of melancholia (“Light is gone / Hope is broke”). It’s all sad, heartfelt, and acoustic until Cronin quite literally electrifies the song – to exceptional results no less. Next up: “Gold”, a dogged investigation of solitary determination and the suite’s pièce de résistance. Halfway through “Gold” he stuns everyone by injecting a sitar, then adding his hot and heavy guitar for a mind-blowing and wildly entertaining moment that sounds like Ravi Shankar running naked up the Sunset Strip.
It’s far too easy to gloss over Cronin amidst the (well-deserved) hullaballoo surrounding his main dude Ty Segall, but know that you are missing out if you think the party revolves around Segall alone. Whether or not MCIII helps Cronin achieve further mainstream success and attention (I think it should, but I don’t make the rules), this record stands out as a freaking excellent mix of garage rock with impeccable manners and delectable pop tunes unconcerned with etiquette. To put it simply, Ty who?