Mikal Cronin, ‘MCII’ – Album Review
Some musicians are suited for supporting roles, assisting “true artists” in achieving their goals by filling in any cracks that might prevent them from realizing their potential. Mikal Cronin, Ty Segall’s trusted friend and bass player, might have seemed like one of these valuable supporting characters, but then he dropped solo debut in 2011.
The self-titled release wasn’t just another fuzzy, cheap, fast and fun garage offering like the cassette releases he had been listening to and emulating for years. Cronin proved to be a songwriter, and a promising enough one that Merge Records scooped him up to see what the young Orange County-born, San Francisco-based musician could do with a little more time and resources. They made a great call, and we should all be grateful.
‘MCII’ is the result of a wide range of influences, long suppressed and boiling over. The opening two tracks, ‘Weight’ and ‘Shout It Out,’ were the easy choices as singles, introducing Cronin’s pop sensibility as an effortless, possibly innate skill. These songs feel as natural as the initial emergence of early rock ‘n’ roll, an era of direct inspiration for Cronin’s writing. Cronin is also faithful to his punk roots, though never to the detriment of his warm melodies. He gives the crisp guitars the power needed to elevate the tunes away from a simple power-pop designation.
The album progresses as an incredibly tight and tasteful stretching of Cronin’s confidence, and on each song, he raises the bar by significant distances. On ‘See It My Way,’ Cronin shows psych-rock instincts that seem to come from a veteran of the scene. On ‘Turn Away,’ he’s surpasses the five-minute mark, using tempo changes, extended instrumental sections and unwavering spirit to distinguish the song as a definitive Cronin.
Even better is when Cronin slows everything down, as his emotional and personal songs flesh out the persona he projects and make him fully worth rooting for. ‘Peace Of Mind’ lays on the reverb and adds multiple string parts, including a violin solo. ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ takes things further, as acoustic strums and fragile falsetto make for the heartwarming campfire song Cronin has been saving for just this moment.
On the closing ‘Piano Mantra,’ a piano ballad with subtle orchestration, Cronin builds beautiful tension, turning in a transcendent performance that’s dramatic and genuine and brave — all of the traits you’d want from a young songwriter who’s poised to become one of our best. Two albums in, Mikal Cronin might be already be great. One thing is for sure: Ty Segall had better start thinking about another bass player, as Cronin might prove to be his equal. If nothing else, he gives that debate a jumping-off point.