No fire without heat
“Fire—specifically its cycle of purging and reseeding the landscape—is a central theme to the record,” says Mikal Cronin on his fourth studio album, Seeker. He’s looking for an answer to death and rebirth, as they were, or maybe just the peace and understanding to confront the beefy topics. But if music could ever be anything other than a remedy unto its own, Cronin hasn’t exactly amplified its power here.
There’s less heat to this record than he might suppose, in fact, it’s lukewarm. It’s hard to believe when you see the ensemble behind the production – members of Ty Segall’s live band, who Cronin often plays for too, and which in any regard is an unbearable semblance of the record we have before us today. Those who’ve seen Segall live will know the trouble he gets up to, the rampant sound he upholds, and they’ll know it’s nothing special either. Cronin avoids the hackneyed idea of Segall’s throne, and be grateful he does because the result is a folk/acoustic kick-up that’s not wrapped up in heavy chains, but daisy chains. The fire that Cronin likes to advocate might not be all his own, but if one thing is, it’s the flowery touch of his writing.
Closer “On The Shelf” might be the closest thing to it, just Cronin and his guitar, filled by the comfort of something that has always been that way (“find a way to live forever, on the shelf/ there’s no sense to hide”). This is, and always will be Cronin’s eternal style. It seems that he tried to shake it off with Seeker, become something new, but by the end of nine wandering tracks, he indelibly returns to the thing he does best. It’s just a shame it took him so long to get back.
What comes before is neither here nor there. The insipid extent of his grasp is neither soft nor exciting, and the melodies fall detriment to that. There’s a rulebook layering to the vocals that he shouldn’t be so comfortable in entertaining. Some tracks may save themselves with the contemporary strings of a synth or a mean-sweep electric guitar (“Show Me,” “Feel It All”), but how can they defer the writing? The very heart of these tracks is meant to be the weight of their deliverance, yet Cronin’s voice is underproduced and unstrained. Give us more, don’t just sit there and wallow in the weight of your existential dread. When he does finally make an attempt, on “Got Reason,” it’s proof of his reservedness. Just sing a little better man.
Listeners today, more than ever before, need a reason to listen. A good reason not to let operating systems curate oblivious playlists. There has got to be a gravity weighing down on them in every second of the music, and if it’s not coming from reputation, then it has to be from a promise. Cronin has neither, so even the tender chords he strikes up from piano and lull (“Sold,” “Lost A Year”) in a last-ditch attempt, are not his sentiments, they’re his excuses. There’s no decoration to formality, and no fire without heat.