Who: Budding power-pop ace Mikal Cronin was finally able to put his college education to good use — and please his folks — on his upcoming sophomore effort MCII (Merge), out May 7. "I studied a lot of stuff, but I ended up getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music and learned to compose for different instruments," says the 27-year-old Los Angeles native. "That came in handy on my new album: I wrote parts for strings." More importantly, "My parents were just glad to hear that I actually used what I learned." It's not as if he'd been a layabout before, though. Cronin, currently based in San Francisco, plays bass in Ty Segall's touring band, and with fellow Bay Area distorto hellions the Moonhearts.
Plays Every Position on the Court: Cronin's accustomed to whipping up a frantic sonic storm as a sideman, but his solo work is more winsomely melodic and carefully crafted. "Don't Let Me Go" and the aptly titled "Piano Mantra" are lovely and lilting, while "I'm Done Running from You" and "Am I Wrong" burst with giddy rhythm, high harmonies, crisp guitars, and effervescing melody. Aside from two Segall guitar solos and some drum parts, Cronin played the whole thing himself. "I have a set idea of what the songs should be," he says. "So playing everything ends up being easiest." And "it's cheaper," he notes wryly.
Golden Gateways: Though Cronin's sonic approach sets him apart from the Bay Area's shambolic garage-rock cadre, he still affords himself the occasional burst of amped-up distortion. "My music sounds nothing like Thee Oh Sees or whatever, but I'm exposed to it so much that there's some overlap. I've learned a lot about creating driving, exciting music from them. And from Ty," says Cronin, "I've gotten really good with a fuzz pedal."
Running Up That Hill: Cronin is in the midst of a few solid months of touring. "It's really rewarding to have everybody bring their own element to it," he says of hearing his backing musicians tackle the instrumental parts he laid down in the studio. That said, "at some point I'd love to use a Kate Bush record as a model for an album, all weird, dark, and conceptual." That one, he admits, "might be a little tougher for the guys to figure out."