When was the last time a power-pop album grabbed the attention of the cool kids? I guess it depends on your definition of power-pop but finding the balance between the sweetness of melody, the universality of a soaring melody and the earnestness of no-hyphen-rock-n-roll has been a difficult balance for artists since the early 70s. Irony-loving types have long pooh-poohed the sincerity of modern day broken hearts but there was once a time when shaggy haired “nice guys” forlornly rocked out with regularity for the hippest of the hip and it looks like modern day indie power-poppers like Ty Segall and Foxygen are bringing back sunny guitar hooks to today’s kids.
The new heir apparent for the Cali power-pop crown is San Francisco’s (by way of Los Angeles) Mikal Cronin and his second full length MCII. Cronin has just enough detailed nostalgia to simulate the classic sound of the 70s AM radio and just enough Bay Area solid state fuzz to let you know that MCII was released in 2013. With his breezy brand of strummy yet punky singalong rock, Cronin lets you know he has definitely done his homework. “Am I Wrong?” is a classic four-on-the-floor head bopper/foot tapper with well-arranged harmonies and guitar solo straight out of Anchorman. Cronin’s knowledge of his parents’ vinyl collection pays huge dividends as his tones sound like a time period rather than any particular song or artist, a rarity in an artist so young. “Change” ups the tempo and ups the ante by adding a long, building instrumental section that adds a kitchy string section to four-piece band and climaxes in a garage-y rock-out riff that one never sees coming.
Playing an older style of music does not mean you have to be predictable! “Piece of Mind” is laconic country rock complete with lap steel, fiddle and three part harmonies and a chorus that could have easily been a hit for America or the Pure Prairie League. But the home run is early release “Weight,” an early candidate for jam of the summer. This handclap instigating rollick features a soaring chorus, great dynamics, and a beautifully crafted acoustic guitar solo, all jammed together like Brian Wilson’s mythical “Teenage Symphonies to God.” I DARE YOU to listen to this and not bounce up and down in your seat and bang your dashboard. This is what car stereos where designed for. And for all you not trained musicians, I’ll let you in on a secret: Cronin is a trained musician in the truest sense. These arrangements are complicatedly simple, the production is sharp and there are some chord changes here that are right out of the Great American Songbook. Using all these tricks and still rocking out is impressive. This guy makes sharp cool music, but his true strength is writing catchy, emotionally rich songs that aren’t gimmicky or cheap — quite a novelty these days.
MCII is low bullshit, no filler pop ‘n’ roll with great tunes. That sounds pretty great, no?
Mikal Cronin headlines the Echo this Friday, May 24.
Words by Stephe Psi-X