By the time you get to the dueling flute solo during the hardcore coda in the lazy, harmony-saturated three-and-a-half minute “Is It Alright,” you’ll not be faulted if you don’t notice how weird it is that all those things converged together on a single song — let alone one that kicks off Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut.
That’s because, while the young Bay Area garage-pop-rocker is a killer genre stylist, it’s not what Cronin’s about. As with his frequent collaborator and friend Ty Segall, cleverness for its own sake is not the goal. Sure, Cronin can mix and match seemingly disparate 20th-century pop-rock elements, but he’s young and crazy-talented. What’s more likely is that he got super into early-’70s Beach Boys and some obscure jazz dudes that week, and wanted to see if it all might work together in one song. It does.
The flautist on “Is It Alright” is none other than John Dwyer of the Bay Area’s own Thee Oh Sees, and Cronin’s music complements their amped-up party jams as well as the Sic Alps’s backyard stoner barbecue anthems. In the weekend party scheme, you’d most want to play Cronin’s songs when you’re just getting started; when that buzz of anticipation hangs in the air like electricity or paper streamers. Cronin’s songs have jagged edges but that’s just because they’re rock ‘n’ roll songs and rock music sounds best when it’s a little distorted.
The final track, “The Way Things Go,” courses with the sort of loping, minor-key pop that once fueled ’90s indie acts like Beulah or the Gerbils. Other similar elements pepper the album; heavy guitar sounds attach themselves to melancholy song structures, as on “Apathy,” which ultimately reveals itself to be both a plaintive and a hopeful jam. The chorus repeats, “I don’t want apathy” over and over; its Lollapalooza forebear would have simply wallowed in their own miserable stew.