Huh? This kind of scenario seems to only play out in movies,. Your run of the mill high school formal is suddenly transformed into a once-in-a-lifetime experience when a killer band surprises the crowd. It’s a moment you’ll remember for the rest of your life, hell, sometimes it changes your life. Ask those who attended Hill Valley’s Enchantment Under the Sea formal in 1955.
So pardon me if this seemed a bit unusual, perhaps even too good to be true. Would Mikal Cronin, Ty Segall and Charlie Moothart—aka the Ty Segall band—rock a winter formal? These three might be the most productive and buzziest musicians of the modern garage rock scene (see the five albums Segall has put out under his name and/or Fuzz in the last two years, or Cronin’s excellent MCII in 2013). Yet, they’ll offer up a few slow dance numbers?
But Cronin’s not a Twitter jokester and the visual evidence had appropriate decorations (check out that stage curtain) and attire (excellent HS formal tie choice by Cronin). A little digging led to a HS events page for the Oakwood school in Southern California (screen grab) and a quick tweet to them received an equally quick RT.
The school’s student council moderator, William Perkins Tift, was kind enough to share a quick confirmation:
Ty Segall did indeed play our semi-formal on Thursday night. The event is organized annually by our Student Council and is open to all 7th-12th grade students. One of the band members is an Oakwood alum whose sibling is a current student here. It was a well-attended and fun event.
There you have it. if you didn’t already appreciate these rockers, their willingness to play a younger sibling’s formal at the ol’ alma mater will only further endear them to the world. And it’s just as Cronin predicted when I talked to him last year for the dearly departed Spinner—he’s willing to explore all different kinds of music (maybe they played “Shout?”) and he wanted 2013 to do Mikal Cronin music before jumping back in with the band. Hard to think of a better way to regroup with your longtime high school pals, and you probably can’t give a better gift to a young sibling. How bad ass is he/she going to be around the lockers for the rest of the semester?
See the full, never published Mikal Cronin piece below. And if you’re an Oakwood alum with pictures, video or a setlist, definitely get in touch.
For Spinner, April 2013
Mikal Cronin is, unjustly, a name many only known in the context of others.
“I understand why everybody talks about the San Francisco scene and lumps me in,” he says. “But it’s such a diverse group of musicians and bands,” and Cronin is as much a part of this garage (or fuzz or noise or whatever) landscape as anyone. He plays shows with Thee Oh Sees, forms bands and records with scene staples like Charlie Moothart. Look no further than Cronin’s most recent release—a January reissue of 2009’s Reverse Shark Attack—for evidence of his relationship with the current face of it all, Ty Segall. The two have played together since high school, as a duo, in the band Epsilons, and under many of the various Segall solo monikers.
Reverse Shark Attack sounds like it reads. The aggressive, distorted riffs and cymbal-liberal drumming should appeal to fans of the music above. A few weeks after that reissue, Cronin officially announced his second project of the year: MCII due May 7. So same story, right? It’ll be a solid album, but more of the same and likely only one of many projects Cronin’s name will appear in a given year.
But MCII is different. It’s Cronin’s first album on indie powerhouse Merge Records and only the second release under his name. Outside of a pair of appearances each from Moothart and Segall, he eschews the usual collaborators to play all the parts. Like the best stuff offered up on Cronin’s new label (home to acts like the Arcade Fire and Wye Oak), MCII can be described in one word. Not “fuzz,” but “expanse.”
“With that scene, there’s a proclivity for loud, fuzzed out, echo-y rock and roll, which I tend to embrace a little bit here and there,” Cronin says. “I know I’m inspired by them and the music they make. They’re some of my favorite bands. But it’s hard to place exactly where their influence makes its way into my own music, because it’s pretty different from what a lot of people around here are doing.”
One full listen and it’s easy to see why MCII is the first of this new San Francisco sound to land at Merge. The quickest initial reference might be Sha, Sha-era Ben Kweller, a rocker able to surprise you with one beautiful melody after another, whether it involves amps, pianos or acoustic guitars. Cronin’s teaser single, “Weight,” fits this description and introduces MCII to the world with keys and not pedals.
The tracks that follow (and your inevitable second, third, fourth, fifth full album listens) only reveal more layers. The album juxtaposes artful strings right next to guitar solos that would be at home on any other Cronin project. There’s a countrified rock twang on tracks like “Peace of Mind” and even some National-esque moments of sunshine after the storm on ballads like “Piano Mantra.” MCII isn’t just different from everything Cronin is associated with (whether you’re talking San Francisco or his debut album), it’s more ambitious. This is the musician’s strongest expression to date.
“The music I make by myself has always been all over the place: noisy rock to quiet acoustic music,” Cronin says. “I feel like this record in particular is just an accumulation of all the music I’ve listened to and been interesting in making for the last… well since I started making music. Stylistically it jumps around a lot, almost to the point where it’s schizophrenic. But hopefully some kind of thread of my own voice comes through and ties it all together.”
Cronin’s voice has slowly been leaking out. Merge’s reach and the praise Cronin earned at SXSW have his release date on music radars despite a stacked two months ahead. In April and May, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix, Deerhunter, The National, Kid Cudi and more will release records. “I’m flattered when people are paying attention to my music and hearing it, but I’d still be making it if they weren’t,” Cronin notes. So even if MCII doesn’t take over your Twitter feed from these big names, it at least gives Cronin some new freedom. He’ll tour the US to support the album later in May and will likely stick to performing as Mikal Cronin throughout the year.
“It’s fun to play in other bands, to explore different kinds of music, but touring and making records under my own name is a different beast: satisfying, scary and difficult,” Cronin says. “Pretty much for the rest of the year I’ll be focusing on my own projects and that’s cool. I’ve been touring a lot with Ty Segall and other projects the last couple of years and it’s nice to be able to focus on one just for a second.”
Again, MCII is only Cronin’s second release under his name. But it feels like a throwback album. Cronin wrote a lot of film scores back when he was in school, “instrumental pieces all about arrangements and interesting choices on instruments with different capabilities,” he says. “I wanted to see what an acoustic guitar can bring instead of an electric guitar or what a sax can bring instead of a violin.” If there’s one idea that comes through loud and clear on MCII, it’s this same joy in exploration. There’s something here for the fans Cronin has made elsewhere, but MCII will open him up to an entirely new audience as well… one that sees him as Mikal Cronin first, then is pleasantly surprised to hear about all those other projects.