When pop-rock-metal-whatever musicians incorporate “new” instruments into their work, the results can polarize. This is especially true for an artist who, perhaps lazily, has been lumped into ‘garage rock.’ California-born-and-bred Mikal Cronin happily avoids jarring results on his third full length, MCIII. Perhaps that can be attributed to Cronin’s solid musicianship and gifts for melody. Like his first two albums, Cronin arranged and played nearly every instrument on MCIII. French horns, saxophones, and trumpets appear at just the right moments. Cronin also arranged parts for a full string quartet. At no point does the lush instrumentation feel forced or obnoxious. That can be tricky for a pop-rock-metal-whatever album to pull off.
Cronin stated that MCIII is divided into two halves – and that’s certainly true with the track listing. (The first five songs are numbered traditionally while the remaining six songs have one-word titles preceded by a roman numeral). However, the music of the two halves is not as distinct. The opener, “Turn Around” blends swelling strings, staccato piano notes, and chunky riffs into a seamlessly catchy tune. Track 6, “i) Alone” features the same elements but exchanges the piano for somber horns. The lyrics of both tracks are thematically similar as well. While “Turn Around” is a tad more upbeat, it explores the similar struggles of “i) Alone.” That’s not to say that neither song is powerful nor enjoyable. They are. Sturdy acoustic riffs provide the framework for adjacent tracks “Feel Like” and “I’ve Been Loved,” while strings hit the emotional apexes. When Cronin insists, “I feel like I’m dying,” the high notes feel especially poignant – and not the least bit cloying. But, not every track is a buttoned-up affair. Hard rockers sprinkle throughout MCIII. The best example is “iv) Ready” – a rollicking, scuzzy number akin to “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart” from longtime friend and frequent contributor Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse, in which Cronin played bass and provided backing vocals.
The standout tracks of MCIII, “Say” and “ii) Gold” showcase Cronin at his best – catchy, layered, and beautifully unpredictable. “Say” features Mikal calmly interspersing the lyrics “say/ find another way” over a driving progression which builds and slows and builds again into a majestic (that’s right) guitar solo over perfectly-placed horns and strings. “ii) Gold” starts with an addictive surf riff that bleeds into squealing guitar noise, morphs into traditional Indian notes, and ends with a logical marriage of the two. While there doesn’t seem to be a clear demarcation of the two halves of MCIII to these ears, that doesn’t prevent enjoyable listening.