Mikal Cronin’s “MCII” emulates the sand-coated tans and charcoaled steaks that complement summer better than any release from the past three months.
Competing against an onslaught of notable albums by acclaimed acts, Cronin bested Vampire Weekend sonically, created more outlandish pop than Daft Punk, and branched out artistically like Kanye West and “Yeezus.” “MCII” sounds like mosquitos buzzing in the ears of good friends at a barbecue just before a summer storm.
Cronin resembles Kurt Cobain trapped in Conor Oberst’s body on his second album. Every track could turn into a full-scale rocker, wrist-crammed power chords included, but most don’t. Waiting for absurd amounts of guitar fuzz and floor-busting drums on “Shout It Out,” I realized my prediction was wrong when hand claps and an elegant chorus instead reigned.
This album is quite unpredictable in ways that most radio rock—The Black Keys and Jack White—is formulated to a tee. This is pop-meshed angst, which makes it unfairly catchy but still angry and chaotic.
Cronin does amp up the freakiness in other places. Sure, the heavy, black clouds just settle over the album’s scape before fading away many times, but occasionally they drop flurries of bombastic noise that make every other quality concede its importance. The piano and melodies would be the project’s best feature. However, the spastics that follow will make any listener forget the keys and heart-warming vocals.
Forgetting the best parts of “MCII” makes every listen new and exciting.
In addition, the album’s accessibility in general makes for an enjoyable listen: It’s short enough that on a car ride, the 10 tracks could be played entirely, and there really is something for everyone. Compounded with Cobain and Oberst, I could include other gifted rockers that Cronin is reminiscent of, from Townes Van Zandt to Nick Drake.
“MCII” deserves much praise and consideration for album of the year, but summer 2013 was too good not to mention other great albums. Below are five other projects strong enough to outlive even some of the strongest memories and headlines from May to August:
“…Like Clockwork” by Queens of the Stone Age
This wrecking ball of a summer slam channels ‘70s rock acts Queen, Elton John and on-the-brink-of-an-implosion Led Zeppelin throughout the diverse track list. John also belts lyrics alongside lead singer and guitarist Josh Homme on “Fairweather Friends,” and guest appearances by contemporary rock god Dave Grohl and the eccentric Trent Reznor make each track a who’s who of guitar-based music. Standout Track: “If I Had a Tail”
“Monomania” by Deerhunter
Mid-‘00s indie rock groups like Death Cab for Cutie and Vampire Weekend pushed the genre’s sounds from distorted and dirty to polished pop, but Deerhunter is shifting the gap back with each release. The Southern outfit’s new LP teeters between Foghat-esque rhythms and lyrics as angsty and abstract as the best college rock tunes. Standout Track: “Pensacola”
“Run the Jewels” by Run the Jewels
In theory, the El-P and Killer Mike collaboration should have floundered and included the annoying excess that projects by prominent but quite different hip-hop artists usually do. However, from the self-titled album’s start, that isn’t the case. The two work so well together they trade spars rhyme-for-rhyme throughout. Standout Track: “Sea Legs”
“Silence Yourself” by Savages
This British all-girl group surpassed all hype it garnered while playing post-punk gigs in London for the better part of two years. “The world used to be silent/Now it has too many voices” lead singer Jehnny Beth howls at the album’s beginning, and with lyrics like that, listeners won’t need to be told twice to shut up and listen. Standout Track: “Husbands”
“Was Dead” by King Tuff
First released in 2008, “Was Dead” went unheard until King Tuff found Internet success last year; thus, fans called for its reissue since so few were originally pressed. Whether released in 2013 or five years prior, this album has a timeless feel and could’ve been an uncovered work by garage rock groups from several periods. Standout Track: “Stone Fox”