See It My Way
Mikal Cronin channels Ben Kweller at the Mohawk
By Chase Hoffberger, 3:37PM, Fri. Jun. 28, 2013
Last night from a Mohawk balcony overlooking Mikal Cronin, I wasn’t thinking about Ty Segall, the San Francisco psych rocker who helped raise Cronin into the act he is today. I was thinking of local boy wonder Ben Kweller. More and more, I’m seeing what the two songwriters share in common.
Let’s start with the looks.
Last night, Cronin arrived onstage wearing cutoff jeans, a blue T-shirt, short black socks, and a pair of blue low-tops. His hair ran long and straggly. He couldn’t grow a goatee if he tried. He hunched over his guitar rather sheepishly, like it doubled as a support beam, and he faced somewhat inward, towards his fellow players, like he was playing for them rather than the crowd.
This should all sound familiar, especially if you’ve tracked Kweller since he was a teenager – when he’d just split off from Radish. A decade and a half later, the South Austin resident’s not disheveled; he’s casual. His hair, like Cronin’s, falls in front of his eyes. They speak similarly as well: both understated and kind. The two look like they’d give you an earnest, honest answer to any question you asked.
The similarities extend to the music, as well. Cronin’s proved that of late.
Throughout his 2011 debut and this year’s excellent MCII, the San Francisco native exhibits a penchant for hearty pop melodies over a wall of distortion and crunch. Credit that to his work in the psych scene with Segall, but remember that Kweller’s Sha Sha boasted such distorted pop tracks as “Wasted & Ready” and “Commerce, TX.”
Stack those up against “Am I Wrong” and “Weight,” two songs Cronin hit last night, and you’ve got a righteous parallel. (To make nothing of the similarities between Cronin’s “Peace of Mind” and “Piano Mantra” and Kweller’s “In Other Words” and “Lizzie.”)
Thursday night’s show found Cronin leaning more towards the live aesthetic of Segall than the studio work of Kweller. He opened with “Is It Alright,” the title track off his eponymous debut, eschewing Thee Oh Sees guitarist John Dwyer’s unusual flute solo for some crunchy guitar work from his bandmate. Then came “Situation” and “Apathy” before cutting into the new stuff.
MCII differs from Cronin’s self-titled disc only in the sense that it’s clearer and more refined. The same melodies and approach remain. Thanks to professional mixing, the distorted guitar work that emanates throughout never arrives as overbearing. It’s consistent – consistently kept under wraps.
Live, Cronin’s bands push boundaries and thus sometimes wash out the singer’s quaint melodies, leaving him little choice but to raise his own level of grit. By the time the band hit “See It My Way,” the roughest song on the new LP, they were a full-tilt garage band, head banging like a psychedelic rock act.
Ty Segall would’ve been so proud. Ben Kweller too. Somewhere in that rough edge was a soft spot that probably would’ve reminded the latter of his former self.