MIKAL CRONIN | RETURNING HOME

Mikal Cronin is at peace and at home. Not necessarily in that spiritually re-awakened, opening moments of a movie trailer kind of way, though truthfully there's been a bit of that going on too. His third solo album, the aptly-titled and surprisingly orchestrated garage-pop masterpiece MCIII, is a lush examination of various discomforting truths and concepts of self-doubt. But despite the existential anxiety threaded into its 12 songs, it ultimately caps with a reassuring sigh of relief via the uplifting, purpose-giving narrative of closing alt-country jangler, "Circle."

On a less figurative level, the musician tracked his latest LP while uprooting himself from San Francisco back to his native Southern California. It was a practical locale swap that put him back in the immediate vicinity of familiar faces – including his backup band and longtime collaborator Ty Segall – that had progressively moved from the Bay down to Los Angeles.

The move also puts him closer to family. When ION catches the soft-spoken popsmith on his cell phone, he's relaxing at his parents' place in Laguna Beach. It's the house he grew up in and, he notes while staring out into a blue-skied backdrop by the water, he's experiencing the "typical comforts of just being home."

"I know where everything is; the fridge is stocked," he reports with a calmed chuckle, adding of the bounty that may be awaiting him inside, "They used to have avocados on stock because I ate a lot of avocados."

It's comforting to hear Cronin so composed if only because, as he admits, the ambitious MCIII was made during a particularly chaotic period of his life. On top of the ongoing trips moving boxes between San Francisco and his current home near L.A.'s Echo Park, Cronin spent much of 2014 playing bass in the Ty Segall Band. He managed to sneak in sporadic solo recording sessions in a San Francisco studio along the way, but still resorted to the less-than-ideal route of crafting many of MCIII's songs and string quartet arrangements in a cramped band van.

"I don't typically write on the road, only because there's no privacy or downtime," Cronin reveals, before grafting a positive outlook on multi-tasking in an already restless environment. "Something like that, it works out in your favour. You can record a couple songs and then have a month to listen and make notes, and then come back and make changes, rather than just being stuck in the studio for a month straight where you lose perspective."

Though still in line with the tunefully ramshackle, fuzzed-out jams of his first two LPs, MCIII is an all-together more pensive and ornate affair than the rest of Cronin's solo catalogue. True, guitars still bleed crimson against full-fury beats on "Gold" or "Ready," but the songwriter has now added elegant bowed violins and cellos into in-the-red anthems like "Turn Around." Taking the song title "Different" to heart, Cronin drops the usual rock band setup entirely to softly croon of isolation above an intimate, all-strings piece of chamber music.

While the full-length finds him employing a richer palette of sounds – “Gold" has him strumming vigorously on a Tzoruas he bought while on tour in Athens – MCIII also features a more experimental approach in regards to its pacing. Though tied together by various self-reflective narratives, the record features standalone songs on one side of vinyl, and a conceptual suite on the other. Cronin cops to lifting the idea from art rock icon Kate Bush's 1986 full-length, Hounds of Love.

"That's the same thing. She has six awesome, straight-up self-contained pop songs on the A-side, and the B-side is this crazy, dark, scary concept record. I always thought that was the coolest thing. It opens up the possibility of how to listen to it. You can listen to the whole record, of course. Or if you're in the mood for some singles, you can pop on the A-side."

No matter how or when you choose to listen to it, the suite that closes the record is a look at a particularly damaged time in Cronin's life when he was dealing with "emotional and physical problems for the first time." Starting with the French horn-heavy "Alone," the six-song cycle relays how a young Cronin traveled up to Portland for college, only to have a debilitating herniated disc force him to drop out of school and head back to Southern California for surgery.

Parts of the conceptual cycle have him dispirited, laid out in bed as part of his recovery, but "Circle" eventually has him taking charge of the situation. With a mellow but self-assured whisper, he lays out his career path with the line: "Hear the music that surrounds you, take control and feel the braces fall away."

"Ultimately, it was a turning point in my life that shifted me into a new direction that I'm still following today," Cronin explains of the life-altering experience that led him towards several years of writing, recording and touring with various projects. "In a way, if none of this crazy, negative stuff happened, I wouldn't be on the positive path of what I'm doing today."

Taking control is central to MCIII, with Cronin saying the album deals with the precarious balance between living in the moment and falling prey to appealing forms of escape, "whether it be simple things like watching movies, or distractions like the Internet, phones and stuff."

Though his busy schedule seems to imply otherwise, Cronin notes: "I was finding myself wasting a lot of time...finding ways to escape from reality for a second, which is necessary. But if you're on too much of that escapist side, you can ignore some real things. There's always way to make your life fulfilled, be a better person, friend, boyfriend, whatever." While not exactly targeting technology as the enemy of freewill, Cronin is more than comfortable enriching his life outside of the digital world. Namely, he'll be touring for most of the year with a newly expanded five-piece band attempting to translate the sublime sounds of MCIII for crowds.

Elsewhere, Cronin is engraining himself into Los Angeles' comedy scene, having recently played an acoustic set at the tail end of a comedy night hosted by Bob's Burgers actor Kristen Schaal. He bashfully brushes off the idea that his stage banter stacks up to his stand-up pals' sets ("You can't really follow-up some professional comedian with my stupid jokes").

As the conversation winds down, Cronin's reportedly looking out across a Laguna Beach landscape. After learning that he's a surfer, ION asks if Cronin is going to hang ten after he hangs up. "I hang everything off the board," he quips drolly, adding self-deprecatingly of his role amongst other wave riders, "I make everybody else out there look better. I'll take one for the surfing community."

Maybe his comedy chops are on-point after all.

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