[Trouble in Mind; 2011]

On the opening track of his eponymous debut, Mikal Cronin correlates garage-rock aesthetics with a feverish flute solo. While the combination of the two certainly seems far-fetched, “Is It Alright” turns out to be a perfect introduction to Cronin’s style — emphasizing sudden bursts of energy with unpredictable musical segues and sporadic experimentation.

The first thing you’ll notice about Mikal Cronin is his keen awareness for garage-rock production. Respecting the genre’s accustomed elements, the singer-songwriter obscures easy-going vocals with a clamoring of dirty-guitars and tumultuous drums. This is certainly the case for Cronin’s first single “Apathy,” which builds upon a back-and-forth exchange of abrupt loudness and abrupt silence. While it certainly establishes an atmosphere of varying dynamics, it nevertheless retains a feeling of intimacy thanks to Cronin’s introspective lyrics and easy-going vocals. This is furthermore evident on the less-frenetic tracks (“Again and Again”), which not only exemplify Cronin’s ability to break away from the noise, but also his ability to separate himself from other garage-rock artists.

However, the accessibility of Cronin’s “oohs” and “ahhs” aren’t to be misjudged: the record is full of experimental ideas. While some are subtly implemented (like the saxophone solo on “Apathy”), others are front-and-center (like the multi-layered guitars on “Green and Blue”). As a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, its clear that Cronin has developed an understanding of pushing and refraining his ideas. Still, for every radical concept that Mikal Cronin brings to the table, there’s an element of pop ready to charm you away. “Slow Down,” for example, starts off like an ambient drone piece, but it gradually transforms into something of a ballad when Cronin’s harmonized vocals emerge. While the set-up of “Hold on Me” sounds like any other indie-rock folk-tune, its stark contrast of dry instrumentation and reverb-engulfed vocals makes it fascinating. This is fun music by all means — but exploratory at the same time.

In contrast to the hyperactive energy of Mikal Cronin’s first three tracks, the second half finds him settling down for a more streamlined approach. Its a bit jarring to hear “Situation,” “Gone,” and “Hold On Me” rely on such simple song structures when “Apathy” and “Is It Alright” depended on an extravagant level of unpredictability (sporadic tempo changes, odd instrumentation, etc). It certainly gives the album an intriguing arch to it, but at times, it almost feels too safe. That being said, in looking at these tracks individually, there’s nothing really “wrong” with them in terms of replay value. They’re well-produced, played with great precision, and above all, irresistibly catchy. If that’s all you’re looking for, what more could you ask for?

It’ll be interesting to see how Cronin progresses as time goes on. He’s certainly the kind of artist that can go in any different direction at any given time. But for now, we’re treated with music that demonstrates a perfect niche between pop-accessibility and zany experimentation.