Music: The Second Time Swings

MCII by Mikal Cronin is a good album with some great songs. The difficulty resides in how to articulate what it is that makes some of these songs great. I have been listening to the MCII continually for a month now in an attempt to find those words. From the opening song, "Weight" the album builds into a roller coaster ride of sounds, and indeed this first song serves as a template for the album which mixes dynamics, starting quiet, as in "Weight" with a solitary piano that is soon joined by vocals and then fuzzed guitar, then breaking back  down to acoustic guitar and building up again and then fading out. And throughout, Cronin's infectious vocals and the complex production create a highly textured music, where as in "Am I Wrong" an overdriven lead guitar is counterbalanced with a subtle tink tink piano. It is these moments when instruments rise in the mix to add another dimension to the sound that the songs are elevated beyond being just good tunes to songs tinged with greatness. 

Mikal Cronin (photo courtesy of Merge Records)

Mikal Cronin (photo courtesy of Merge Records)

Also, MCII is one of those albums that has a back glow of references to predecessor artists in a way that is not homage nor derivative but allusive in the richest manner; for instance, there are hints of Big Star (which show most evidently in songs like "Peace Of Mind" or "Don't Let Me Go") and also West Coast garage rock ( in songs such as "Turn Away" or "See It My Way"). But to each of these Cronin adds his own touch, making the familiarity no more than a component, almost as if a genome that remains in the musical DNA, a part of it but less than the whole new sound. One of my favorite things in listening to MCII is how Cronin has incorporated strings into the songs, violin weaving in and out of "Peace Of Mind" or the fuller strings that rise from discordant sounds  in the bridge/outro on "Change".  With the way Cronin's vocals soar at points and mixed in such elegance with the overdriven guitars, this music would in a perfect world be what arena rock is all about. And if the complex beauty of songs such as the final song, "Piano Mantra", is any indication of what is to come, then maybe such a perfect world is not too far off because songs such as this, with their big sound, cry out for a big stage and all that attends it.

MCII by Mikal Cronin is out now from Merge Records.

A digital download was provided for review.