Top Albums 2015 Advent Calendar: Day 4
Mikal Cronin - MCIII
Mikal Cronin must be one of the most likable guys in current indie/garage rock. Just looking at his face on the cover of his new record makes me feel like I could get to know this guy better; this was furthered in hearing his charming conversation with Marc Maron and is solidified by his hugely welcoming and enjoyable music. Other members of the current West coast garage rock explosion, namely Ty Segall or John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees), seem to be just as nice, but in their music they add edge, weirdness, paranoia and ear-scratching guitar solos. While Cronin cuts from the same stone as these guys, he does so with much more delicacy, poise and care. He's unafraid to make his choruses clear and catchy, and he'll shoehorn in some strings or piano to bolster the melodies wherever possible.
The results on his previous album MCII were instantly enjoyable, and across that album's 10 songs he perfected the power-pop blueprint to transport his universal messages to his listeners. MCIII picks up in the same spot and basically just continues the journey through 11 more new tracks, although they're a little more cluttered with sounds, and we get some hints of anger or frustration in the more explosive guitars on certain tracks.
There is a slight overarching story going on here about the time he left home for the first time to go to college and then injured his back, leaving him stranded and lonely in a strange place. You don't really need to know this story for the songs to still have their intended effect, but it adds a little emotion to the fairly straightforward choruses of "I feel like I'm dyiiiiiiiing" or "god I need some control!" These songs aren't insightful or even particularly original, but goodness they're fun and sometimes just plain cathartic.
From the riffing rock stomper of "Made My Mind Up," to the anthem of single-minded determination "Gold," to the crystallisation of a moment of defeat in "Turn Around," MCIII is full of pop-punk gems that hark back to the golden age of the genre around the turn of the century. The thing that makes these songs worth coming back to is Cronin's ability with momentum, knowing exactly when and how to build up the tension, then letting it all out at the perfect instant of unstoppable propulsion.
The simpler, acoustic songs on MCIII also deserve to be highlighted, as Cronin's knack for melodies and frautness transfer themselves perfectly to this stripped down setting. He takes these opportunities to turn even more self-reflective and it really resonates on both "I've Been Loved" and "Different," which could easily lend themselves to lighter-raising singalongs in the right live setting.
MCIII ends with the beautiful taking-stock anthem "Circle" where Cronin sings about the importance of music in his life ("this is what I've got/this is what I'm looking for") and begs "please stay all around me." For fans of power-pop everywhere, we hope for that too.
Have I bought this album?: Sadly no. This is one that I forgot about for months and have only come back around to recently. Hopefully I can pick it up soon.
Algiers - Algiers
It would be overly generous to say that Algiers have created a new genre on their debut album, but their combination of punk ideals, industrial/hard-core instrumentation and gospel/soul-inflected vocals is certainly idiosyncratic to say the least. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the album is that the meshing of punk and soul is actually a very harmonious one, especially when transmitted through hot-headed lead singer Franklin James Fisher. And considering the issues the world faces today, he has plenty to say.
When I saw Algiers play a couple of months ago they had microphone issues plaguing the early stages of the performance. This seriously enraged Fisher who was visibly frustrated, laser beams flying out of his eyes at the sound crew. However, he never interrupted the show to fix the problem, he sang and played on as hard as though it was his only reason for existence, that extra fire only adding to the message in his politically charged lyrics. This fire is evident throughout Algiers, wherein he consistently condemns popular culture, professes dissatisfaction and speaks out on behalf of the unfairly treated or the forgotten members of the human race.
This comes with a backing of buzz-saw guitars, imperious percussion and skillful sample use. With the added ammunition Fisher's deceptively alluring vocals, Algiers often weave beauty in amongst grinding, whining and stomping instrumentation, giving the whole album an overwhelmingly dystopian feeling. Although they express themselves using a grayscale sonic palette, Algiers is not at all unmoving. In fact Algiers' debut features a series of extremely punchy and captivating songs. Like flowers in a warzone or kindness in a prison camp Algiers provides a setting of unflinching cruelty, but consistently delivers something inspiring from within it.
Have I bought this album?: Yes, on vinyl.