This ‘Mikal Cronin’ review was written by Omar Alavi, a GIGsoup contributor.
You never ever categorise music, not if you want to get inside the head of an angst-ridden singer-songwriter. That’s a brilliant songwriter in this case Mikal Cronin and his most personal journey yet. MCIII takes you to a trip that, whether you like it or not, will make you shudder with masochistic excitement of what lay ahead. If you are a teenager that is. If you are a few years on you’ll be parallel runnin’! More importantly you’ll understand.
MCIII distinctively is organised into two parts musically and lyrically. Side A is indulgent geared towards the masses of youth coming off age. It casts a wider net allowing infective pop melodies and distinctively iodized lyrics to speak to its audience with a radio-friendly bent often culminating in dance-hall anthems with stylised rhythm patterns. Almost celebratory towards wistfulness and sense of loss, side A renews the vow of taking the plunge despite the constant fears of the what-ifs!
‘Turn Around’, the opening belter, attests to defying the comforts of living a lie. ‘Made My Mind Up’, with its drive and zest to take the unknown full on, is unapologetic to causing hurt in the process but also acknowledges that it’s unintentional but unavoidable. The journey cannot be denied! ‘Say’ has an anthemic feel with a strong Springsteen “Born to Run” splendour of laying it all on the line (find a way, watch it all come down) complete with a powerful guitar solo that incredibly takes you on a power ride with the sun-in-the-eye-wind-in-the-face catapult to out of the maize and the mist of ‘passing the day’ and ‘wasting away’. Invariably then the glare of the sun heightens the fear of the unknown as you are shot across horizon of hope and failure and ‘Feel Like’ is an exceptionally sensitive song of being suspended in mid-air with no control. The song is relentless because this is the most anguish-ridden part of any journey – the not knowing whether any action or inaction causes anything of consequence. It’s a purgatory and Cronin oozes a disquieting anxiousness with a hypnotic melody line. I’ve Been Loved is the culmination of this shot in the dark. It’s a high point and the heart of side A as it should be. Intricately interwoven with the lilt of a string quartet that gives the sound an extraordinary nuance and moodiness and an all-is-not-well-but-I-can-hang-with-this attitude.
The dramatic, operatic side B is more personal to Cronin’s recent personal life during and around the time of his foray into the Pacific Northwest for studies. It’s his “coming of age” story when he found himself alone and adrift, struggling with debilitating back pain and a dissolving sense of self. “It’s about a pivotal moment in my life that changed things, just within a couple of months,” Cronin says. “It was a shifting point that sent me on the path to doing what I’m doing right now.” With that as the starting point side B constitutes heavy personal trauma sung through a suite of songs strung together with Cronin’s experiences and come-uppance while a graduate student.
‘Alone’ begins as a lament to the isolation where ‘hope is broke’ and scurries full steam into ‘Gold’, which is punctuated with the visceral sounds of the tzouras, a traditional Greek string instrument, blending into the full scale garage band sound crescendo reflecting intense inner turmoil and frenzy. ‘Control’ with its devastating guitar solo attempts to take stalk of the helter skelter in the “payback town”. The Pet Shop Boy textured ‘Ready’ may be an uncompromisingly up-tempo song standalone but as part of the tableau it’s terribly arduous and thematically redundant. Whenever Cronin slows it down and unleashes the string quartet the effect is layered and moody as is the case with ‘Different’ a fabulously conceived account of changing, and unfathomable, realities. ‘Circle’ is an affirmation to stick to the basics under distress and “take music that surrounds” to “take control” which is “what I’ve got and what I’m looking for”.
The album is overproduced and hurriedly mixed with Cronin’s mumbled delivery drowning the lyrics into the overpowering sound. While this may enhance the despondency of the theme of loss and suffering and the struggle to make sense of it all, it indelibly leaves the listener inexplicably bereft in no man’s land. Melodies, harmonies and arrangements cover the lush gamut from the garage band sound to The Beach Boys organic vibe to Spectorian ‘wall of sound’ instrumentations as well The Pet Shop Boys’ distinctive riding the crests of full-scale up-tempo orchestrations. While acoustic undertones cannot be denied, the plugged-in drive the melodies into a maze of whatchamaycallit! Because it’s an amalgam of word and music and Cronin is lost in MCIII.
‘MCIII’ is out now on Merge Records
You can see ‘Mikal Cronin’ at one of the following venues…
May 28th 2015 – Parc del Fòrum, Barcelona
May 29th 2015 – Paloma, Nimes
May 30th 2015 – Le Ferrailleur, Nantes
May 31st 2015 – La Maroquinerie, Paris
June 1st 2015 – 100 Club, London
June 2nd 2015 – Botanique, Brussels
June 4th 2015 – Nos Primavera Sound, Porto
June 5th 2015 – Beaches Brew Festival, Marina Di Ravenna