We were greatly impressed by the balance of melody and noise on The Babies’ 2012 album Our House On The Hill, and other bands such as The Men and King Tuff have experimented with these spheres. However, Mikal Cronin’s newest album MCII perfects this blend and delivers one of the year’s most immediately enjoyable, adeptly arranged, and furiously beautiful albums.
Quick keys announce the opener, “Weight,” preceding punchy snare and a strummed guitar, but before the first minute, the full power of immaculately toned distortion crushes the mix, leading the listener to some delightful and subtle acoustic picking in the post-chorus. The song’s mix of major and minor chords within the melody is perfect, descending and then climbing wonderfully on the last chord. Cronin’s lyrics are somehow relatable and simultaneously humorous and strange. There’s both hope and confusion in the hazy, world-weary lines as he sings, “I feel, I feel anew/ The time is right, I’m only getting older/ I’m not ready for the second wave/ The way you’ve seen it through/ Don’t be bolder, golden life of mine/ Sing for love, full force in my life/ I’m not ready for the way you dance.”
The album’s first half continues to deliver tightly woven power pop and amazing melodies on “Shout It Out” and “Am I Wrong,” and Cronin proves he can embed some wicked solo notes into the mix on the slightly more epic and caustic jam “See It My Way.” MCII shows off it’s dichotomy in polar extremes in the one-two punch of the mellow and acoustically driven “Peace of Mind” and the raucous “Change.” The late sequence of the album follows the groundwork set forth on the preceding tracks, moving between acoustic guitars and buzzing distortion, consistently delivering memorable melodies, clearly Cronin’s strongest asset and the ability that sets him apart from like-minded bands.
Fleeting moments of sheer brilliance like the brief half-time drum patter near the mid-point of “Turn Away” and splashes of falsetto vocals crop up in the songs. Cronin delivers beautifully simple and emotive lyrics on “Don’t Let Me Go,” singing, “Be the light that guides me up and through the fog/ You’re all I know,” stripping the song to the barest form present on MCII and allowing listeners an unobstructed glimpse at his writing prowess.
Cronin closes the album with the delicate, elegant, and occasionally eerie piano driven song “Piano Mantra.” Although the track doesn’t see drums until over half way through, crisp acoustic guitar, punchy drums, and soaring strings enter the mix before a cacophonous mess of distorted guitar is added to carry the song to its final and gorgeous seconds. Ending with the lines, “Now overdrawn, I’m coming back home/ Sink my roots and I’ll be gold/ The open arms are giving me hope,” Cronin’s bifurcated lyrics match the divergent elements present throughout the album and especially on the album closer. MCII is a tour de force, a gift to indie rock fans in the form of a rare power pop gem.