Earlier last week I randomly rediscovered Ty Segall's Twins, the third in his parade of full-lengths from last year. Coincidentally, MCII, the sophomore LP of Segall's buddy bandmate Mikal Cronin, was also released around that time. I'm sure Cronin has gotten has gotten tired of continuously being labeled as Segall's bandmate, but the connection really bleeds through and makes sense. Both are raw in their composition, honest with their words and generous with their enveloping layers.
The trick here is that Cronin does an immense amount with so little. MCII is a solid followup to his self-titled debut as both are extremely simple but have a captivating delivery. The tracks on MCII all have pretty predictable chord progressions, and a good half of them have the flat six chord, a tugging dissonance that Cronin stretches out before resolving back to the tonic. It means Cronin is relying on relatively safe songwriting, sure, but it also means Cronin can dish out as many of the same chords as he wants and still get us every goddamn time.
What's refreshing about MCII is the wide range of styles that Cronin is capable of on each track, which are all glued together with a single lyrical narrative. The first half of album opener "Weight" isn't the most attention-grabbing hook you've heard in your life. Yet, Cronin immediately thickens what seems like a piano pop tune into a garage revival number. The same thing happens on the following "Shout It Out." The two make a solid block to warm up to Cronin's poppy tunes made over garage rock and self-doubting lyrics.
"See It My Way" is when things get interesting. Addictive snare pickups kick off the track, which indulges in blues rock-tinged riffs that complement Cronin's wails of "dying to get along with you / trying to show you through." It's times like these where you can clearly hear his work with Segall bleeding through with raucous chords that are still carefully crafted.
Even on softer, acoustic numbers, Cronin packs a punch or two with his delivery. "Don't Let Me Go," which sounds like it was recorded in one go in a live session, is bare and stripped-down, beautifully placed smack dab in the middle of a sandwich of two hard-hitting numbers. Furthermore, "Turn Away" has an engaging orchestral structure that contrasts its heavy garage pop delivery, a combination that Cronin seems to have mastered by the end of the MCII.
The album closer, "Piano Mantra," is an amalgamation of the entire album, transforming a piano ballad into a swelling opus. The semi-existential questions still circle as Cronin repeats, "Can you hear me or is it in my mind?" But just as the entire album is formulated on a series of tugging dissonance, "Piano Mantra" ends on a hopeful resolution: "The open arms are giving me hope." Not only do Cronin's final words create a sense of completion, but the marriage of the orchestral lines and the full band also creates a sense of balance.
MCII, ironically, is inventive in its constant recreation of a single trope: the use of simple progressions with several different dressings. As an album set out to reappropriate pop rock, MCII succeeds. [B+]