July 20, 2013

Mikal Cronin, "MCII"

I first came across Mikal Cronin through his gig as the bassist in Ty Segall's band, and through their various collaborations over the last few years. I also picked up his solo debut a couple of years ago. It's a hazy lo-fi affair, like you'd expect. But I had no idea he had arrived somehow at the huge, polished sound that's all over MCII. I was with a friend on 6th Street in Austin while the whole place was buzzing with the drunken craziness of South by Southwest this spring. We went up the stairs into the Parish club to check Mikal out, but also to seek refuge. The band came out, launched into the set, and I was floored by the first tune. Just floored. And this is jaded old me, who's had it up to here with shitty-ass garage rock bands. Cronin and his band of five were the absolute antithesis of the lazy California thing that's everywhere right now -- they played sweet, tightly orchestrated pop songs, all done at sane tempos with clearly sung vocals, even in the live setting. And my god, the hooks! Every song was a hit. How is this possible? Am I dreaming? High? I picked up the record a couple of months later when it hit the street, and there it was again. The big sound, the clear joy, the hooks. There are all sorts of pop flavors on the record. And of course, the best tunes are the darker ones. There's an acoustic guitar on almost every song. It hangs way back in the mix most of the time, acting as a sort of glue, a backbone to hold everything together. There are three-part harmonies. Wind instruments, pianos, strings. Handclaps, even! It's genius. And the best part is that it's a real studio record, not just in the sounds, but in the mix and pacing, too. Each song is crafted with great care and confidence. Brilliant stuff.