'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP
Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.
30 June 2020
Last year, singer-songwriter Mikal Cronin released his latest LP, Seeker, to widespread acclaim. Full of top-notch songwriting and wide-ranging approaches, it was a satisfying return after a relatively lengthy hiatus (his previous album, MCIII, came out in 2015). Always one to challenge and surprise both himself and his audience, he now returns with Switched-On Seeker, an electronic reimagining of that same wonderful collection. It evokes what Ben Gibbard did with the Postal Service compared to his aesthetic with Death Cab for Cutie. When placed side by side, the former version is superior to this one—after all, it already features some digital elements amid its full-bodied instrumentation—but Cronin certainly deserves applause for offering such an intriguing and novel alternative.
Seeker was partially influenced by the relatively recent wildfires in Southern California that forced Cronin to leave his peaceful cabin and move back to Los Angeles. Likewise, writer's block and the fragility of past relationships played a part in his creative mission. Rather than record this one after Seeker, he created them simultaneously. As for the "Switched-On" part of the title, it's meant as an homage to the pioneering electronic-meets-classical Moog music of Wendy Carlos. Cronin limited himself to only a series of synthesizers and drum machines as he worked in his garage. The result is a fascinating journey full of intrigue and heart, especially when assessed alongside its traditionally arranged counterpart.
Opener "Shelter" follows the same blueprint as before—right down to having an identical length—and what it loses are warmth and variety, it makes up for with ethereal and isolating vocal effects. Cronin's pensive distance conjures the coldness of Wayne Coyne's singing on the Flaming Lips' The Terror. Afterward, the robotic percussion of "Show Me" inherently possesses a hip-hop essence that wasn't there before; also, the Richard Wright-esque synth solo is quite arresting.
By and large, the rest of Switched-On Seeker follows the same path, so there are less overt diversity and intrigue moving forward compared to the Seeker. Still, there's plenty left worth investigating. For instance, "Fire" likely has increased dynamic appeal this time around since its clash of dissonant frequencies and serene coatings make for a starker juxtaposition. Similarly, "Sold" is more effective here. In contrast, the prior rendition excelled as a Sean Lennon/Ben Folds-like piano ballad with symphonic rock outbursts near the end, this one is slower, sparser, and more harrowing, ensuring that every dejected verse and note punctures your soul.
An equivalent contrast exists for "I've Got Reason", which replaces some of the Scott Miller (Game Theory/The Loud Family) harshness with an almost video game soundtrack sort of playfulness. Plus, "Caravan" is more carnivalistic now. "Guardian Well" is dreamier and quirkier, and closer "On the Shelf" captures Sufjan Stevens' imaginative electronic flair instead of pleasing as an enjoyable—but more common—acoustic ode.
Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres—such as me—will no doubt prefer Seeker; however, Switched-On Seeker will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters. Either way, Cronin proves to be one of today's strongest singer-songwriters with his newest sequence, and the fact that he provides two majorly different yet resourceful interpretations of that set also marks him as a remarkably ambitious and clever creator. Let's hope he attempts a similar gimmick next time around, too.
- Mikal Cronin: Seeker (album review) - PopMatters ›
- Mikal Cronin: MCIII - PopMatters ›
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