BY BARRY ST. VITUS
MCIII marks the third solo out of the chute from multi-instrumentalist and brilliant popster, Mikal Cronin, whose name may ring a bell with some for his past work with Ty Segall. I believe that the most helpful touchstone to help newbies connect with his music would be to suggest Elliot Smith, circa Figure 8. The first playing of MCIII sort of threw me with all its sumptuous strings and brass arrangements. Subsequent visits made obvious that his music and songwriting was almost identical to the first two albums, ranging from soaring, complex pop songs, to the ferocious, brain-mangling pandemonium of say, Dinosaur Jr. at their most explosive.
Cronin’s songwriting suggests something precise and disciplined in its creation, and thoughtful and personal in his lyrics. On implementing a string quartet into this work, “It’s a continuation of what I’ve been trying to do up until now, but I’m finding a better way to do it,” he says. “I’m finding a more successful way of working those unexpected elements and textures and instruments into a rock record, of exploring that wormhole and mushing everything together harmoniously. I like riding the line between the two,” he adds. “I like finding new ways to bring different musical worlds together.” This works well, as his type of pop isn’t some candy-assed pop pap for teens, but rather, most suitable for adult tastes, as noted by his swelling popularity, playing festivals and national TV appearances.
His approach on MCIII was to do split themes for A and B sides. The first five songs, soaring pop numbers. The final six outlining his coming-of-age and personal struggles after relocating to the Northwest and dealing with loneliness, chronic back problems, and finally getting his music career launched. There’s not an obvious distinction in the music between the two sides, the album flows together as a whole pretty naturally, even when you know to look out for the ‘concept.’ There’s going to be a commercial appeal in the syrupy opening song, “Turn Around,” a lavish affair of soaring, layered violins and cello. I wasn’t too surprised that he chose it for his Conan appearance. “Made My Mind Up” showcases his knack for composing some truly lush, complex songs that really lift you up. He really shines at making his instrumental bridges in each song seem like biting into the jelly in a filled donut, the best part.
The horns really come out for “Say,” and begs to be blasted at top volume. “Feel Like” comes on as a creeper, starting off low and slow, then exploding into a fast-paced, full string quartet. “I’ve Been Loved” is one of many that spill over into that Elliot Smith space and gracing it with melancholy violins.
Shit gets serious on one of the most outstanding tracks, “Gold,” with shrieking guitars gathering up momentum for a noisy, feedback-filled break about two minutes in. Then, it all falls away for a plaintive tzouras (similar to a bouzouki) solo, lending a middle-eastern flavor. “Ready” is another sound-pounder in the second half. The other three tunes there fall into more of a folk-rock genre, the last, “Circle,” another tune very reminiscent of Elliot Smith.
In short, if you liked what you heard on MCI and MCII, MCIII is more of the same, only slathered in lush arrangements with a little less of the raw outbursts of his earlier garage-y grunge sound. Like a lot of other artists, I believe that he might have gotten a little too obsessive about having an orchestra at his disposal, and fussing over how to incorporate them into every song, instead of perhaps, embracing each song on it’s own merit. The Beatles also used strings and orchestras on many songs, but not every one on every album. Sugar or honey is great on some things, but, as much as you love it, you don’t put it on everything you eat. But, to clarify, there’s nothing wrong in that regard, to this album. We could hope that future work perhaps rely on such accompaniments in a little more balanced way.
DOWNLOAD: “Gold,” “Feel Like” and “Ready.“