Mikal Cronin is making music to get addicted to.
The Ty Segall sideman and solo artist is far from a household name. Google searches and Rateyourmusic keywords seem to suggest that the singer-songwriter exists in the realm of “garage rock”, although that hardly seems like a fair shake for a guy responsible for some of the most addictive, giddy pop music of 2013 yet. Mind you, the multi-instrumental’s sophomore set, MCII, does occupy the same headspace as, say, Guided By Voices; only in the sense that Cronin commits wholeheartedly to the school of thought that a great song will remain a great song, whether or not you spice it up with sparkly production. MCII is shot through with great songs.
That’s not to say that this thing was recorded in a tin can; Mikal’s a mite rough around the edges, but he’s hardly lo-fi. He contributes a clear, crisp falsetto to the refrain for superb album opener “Weight”; musically, there are flurries of fuzzed-out guitar and muddled high harmonies — think Girls’ “Honey Bunny” by way of Feist’s “I Feel It All” — all woven into the sort of sprightly, wistful beach pop that Best Coast perfected on last years’ The Only Place.
Which, come to think of it, isn’t a terrible frame of reference for Cronin’s record. Certainly, Cronin’s lyrical content is a bit weightier than Bethany Cosentino’s — while far from morose, Cronin touches upon certain universal themes of change and uncertainty — but MCII is, like The Only Place, melodic and unchallenging, and unmistakably summery. “Shout It Out” is a beach-front clap-a-long with propulsive drums and keening Beach Boys background vocals; “Am I Wrong” is a four-on-the-floor stomper with strands of Matthew Sweet’s guitar-heavy retro-pop wriggling through its DNA. Like all great records, the songs on MCII share a remarkable camaraderie with one another, a certain song-to-song kinship that betrays indelible consistency, but each melody is perfectly crafted — chiseled from stone, it seems — and perfectly unique. And yet, it all sounds familiar, perhaps due to Mikal’s uncanny ability to bottle sounds of the past without trapping them there.
They’re songs that, despite their ornate instrumentation — pianos and strings float in and out of the record, defiantly brushing aside critics that would pigeonhole Cronin in the “guitar-pop” genre — would work nicely stripped down to an acoustic guitar and a voice. That principle is demonstrated on “Don’t Let Me Go”, a particularly superlative track that just features Cronin harmonizing with himself over a series of acoustic chords; again, it’s far from morose (we’re not in Damien Rice territory when Cronin unplugs), but it’s rather fascinating, the two Cronins lending cracked falsetto harmonies to a swaying, mid-tempo ballad.
But that’s Mikal Cronin; two albums in, he’s already proven himself as an up-and-coming architect of masterfully written pop music. As we approach beach season, do yourself a favor and let MCII sink in a bit; it’s only a matter of time before you’re addicted.