If four-part harmonies, jangly guitars, arrangements reminiscent of 1960s psychedelia, and indelible vocal melodies are unfashionable, blackballed poperties absent from most music in the year two-thousand and twelve (which they are, even if they occasionally manage to sneak their way into a Girls or Best Coast beach party), then Mikal Cronin is Ernest Worrell. We’re talking permanent testicular damage from the amount of wedgies this guy received. Earning his pop outsider stripes by playing a supplementary role in Ty Segall’s live band and fraternizing with likeminded Californian Nuggets revivalists, he’s finally decided to make a full length record entirely of his own creation.
The differences between Cronin and his friend and collaborator Segall, and other SoCal pop nostalgists cut from a similar cloth (I’m looking at you, Burger Records’ roster!), are subtle, but of extraordinary significance. Cronin’s music is essentially a similar type of fuzzy, anachronistic, “garage-y,” Jay Reatardesque pop, but it doesn’t immediately strike you as any of these things because there’s also an undercurrent of complete, aberrant originality coursing through the record’s grooves. Cronin is consciously appropriating aspects of the music he loves, but he’s borrowing the most tenuous among them. The first track “Is It Alright” kicks off with approximately 25 seconds of barbershop choir serenading that seems like it could have been lifted straight from the “Heroes & Villains” bridge, before exploding and totally transmogrifying into a precocious powerpop tune, uncannily recalling British forebears The Creation, The Troggs, and early Kinks. (The transition literally made me jump the first time I spun the wax). The song takes one more dramatic turn before its abrupt conclusion, and it’s down the most unexpected avenue—it resolves with a jarring stereophonic flute duel, reminiscent of late ‘60s, bluesy Jethro Tull, before their concept albums and oppressive grandiosity. He’s pillaging the deep cuts, guys.
The next track “Apathy” is even better and more ruthless then the first. While it initially sounds like it’s going to be subdued acoustic guitar track (which would have been a welcome breather after the symphonic ferocity of “Is It Alright”), the narrator’s grip tightens just in time for the anthemic chorus, “I don’t want apathy!” These two tracks are simply some of the most savage, primordial garage pop songs since Jay Reatard’s early singles. “Green and Blue” sounds more contemporary than anything else on the record, bearing a closer resemblance to Ride’s early material than The Pretty Things, and it’s also the point where things start to get a little uninteresting. I wouldn’t have grieved over the omission of the unremarkable “Get Along”, and “Gone” confirms that garage rock, a genre characterized by layers of growling guitars and pure power, can occasionally sound sterile if the song itself simply isn’t good. “Hold On Me” is a gorgeous, “Oh, Donna”-esque ballad I can imagine accompanying a poignant scene in a Wes Anderson movie, and the final track “The Way Things Go” sounds like a Lennon/McCartney collaboration that didn’t quite make its way onto the final sequence of Abbey Road.
Cronin is one of those songwriters that obviously has an encyclopedic knowledge of the form, and his musical talent lies in his ability to cook a tasty yet imaginative stew of these influences. This is definitely a musician who composes music with his head rather than his gut—the idyllic lyrics are meaningless afterthoughts, scribbled on a napkin minutes before the recording session starts, just so he can sing something. But the best pop tunes are special because of the way they sound, not because of what the words say. Let the rockin’ do the talkin’. “Is It Alright” reminds me of summer, and “Hold On Me” reminds me of prom, even though I’m far from positive what either them are about. Mikal Cronin a master of crafting the impressionistic pop gem—accessible, catchy, ambrosial, and evocative—and that’s a rare and peculiar talent.