With the release of MCII early last month, it became clear that Long Beach export Mikal Cronin had crafted a record that infused the garage-rock prototype of his peers with more heart than many of them could manage in a career beneath all the bluster. Whether or not they were favorable (they were, actually, always favorable), the comparisons with his friend and collaborator Ty Segall had grown tiresome in the two years since Cronin's self-titled debut, and his emotionally fraught old soul has finally come to be lauded in its own right. All of this is justified. MCII is is one of 2013’s most accomplished releases, a joyous combination of heart-on-sleeve indie rock and psychedelia that reveals its creator as one of the most paradoxically self-assured authors of self-conflict in his generation.
All of this is in evidence before Cronin even steps towards the microphone at Mississippi Studios. His long hair draped over the shoulders of his tie-dye T-shirt, Cronin looks like a more charming, fresh-faced Jimmy Page and his smile is half embarrassed, half ecstatic. Then, as if it was the easiest thing imaginable, he sings the a cappella introduction to "Is It Alright," originally a rich harmony, completely on his own without missing a note. Calling him shy—as so many critics have chosen to—seems hasty. The modest confidence that underpins his set can be seen in the punch he gives to "Get Along" and the swagger with which he bleeds into "Apathy," wheeling away to Emily Rose Epstein’s drum kit and throwing himself head first into another solo.
With this in mind, you’re forced to question why Cronin introduces new songs into his set so late, as if MCII hadn’t been released yet—particularly when "Weight" and "Am I Right" border on flawless when he does get to playing them. Why, too, does Cronin choose to cover Wreckless Eric’s "(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World" for his encore, rather than taking his foot off the pedal to showcase the delicate beauty of a track like "Don’t Let Me Go"?
In the end you have to go back to that smile. With MCII, Mikal Cronin has struck out on his own, not content with the constant comparisons to his friends or peers, affording him the opportunity to construct his identity in opposition to them. It’s that smile that shows he’s aware of the subtlety and soul that make up his songs, and that they will shine through the reverb and distortion, regardless of which songs they may be.