May 4, 2015
Mikal Cronin is a grower. The 29-year-old Californian has three albums under his belt, and MCIII, his latest, feels like a personal culmination. He’s been readying himself for this, pushing his mature garage rock on each release. On his self-titled, the occasional Beach Boy harmony and flute solo. On MCII, the piano ballad and violin. On MCIII, he’s found the perfect way to blend his bashing sound with, well, just about every instrument you could imagine. There’s the French horn, the saxophone and the trumpet. There’s the string quartet. There’s even the tzouras, a traditional Greek instrument. Cronin is able to weave these instruments beautifully together with the usual guitar/bass/drums sound. It’s his fullest, biggest sounding record yet, and he’s confidently telling the world he’s ready for a larger stage.
Structurally, Cronin’s album is divided into two distinct halves. The first features five standalone songs that in many ways act as a continuation of MCII. Lead single “Made My Mind Up” just screams MCII, while “Say” carries the MCII-bounce of “Shout It Out”. New tracks “Feel Like” and “I’ve Been Loved” resemble the slow burn of the older “Peace of Mind” and “Don’t Let Me Go”. You know from the start these songs are going to sound amazing live, whether played full band or solo acoustic.
The second half, on the flip side, is a work of its own. A six-song suite, side two is a collection of songs about Cronin’s ill-fated time at school in the Pacific Northwest, where he slipped a disc in his back and needed surgery. Cronin writes of his emotional and social struggles during this time, universalizing the lyrics to make the coming-of-age journey entirely relatable. You’ll be instantly charmed by the strings and muted horn on opener “i) Alone”. Singing of his return to California, it sounds like a movie soundtrack you might think of and take comfort in when homesick. “iii) Control”, a personal standout, finds Cronin frustrated at his inability to take command of the situation. “v) Different” and closer “vi) Circle”, meanwhile, find him more hopeful, ending the album on a positive note (and a tambourine shake, in case you were wondering).
Musically, much of MCIII reminds me of Big Star’s Third album, reimagined and made full as a film score. I think Cronin could have a nice career as a film scorer, actually. Every instrument on the album was either played or arranged by him, displaying an impressive range of composition. It may be this very range, however, that has me docking the album slightly. MCII is a perfect album for me, a masterpiece that came at the right time and was the right combination of rock and restraint. MCIII is just not as immediately gratifying, but I realize that’s a subjective claim. Whether you like MCII or MCIII better in the long run is completely up to you. Just keep in mind, as I’ve mentioned before: MC’s a grower.