Personal Picks

Mikal Cronin has long played second fiddle to the much more well-known and prolific Ty Segall, the San Francisco garage-rocker with whom Cronin attended high school. Although he released his debut solo album in 2011, Cronin has more regularly stayed out of the spotlight as the guitarist in Segall’s band. With MCII, his sophomore album and one of my more played albums of 2013, Cronin proves that he can – and should be – his own front man.

MCII is power pop of the highest caliber, the sort of hook-infused, catchy music that I almost gave up looking for. Refreshingly, though, this is not simply a guitar-rock album, although the instrument is certainly prominent here, with Segall contributing two guest solos in addition to Cronin’s own exhilarating virtuosic playing. Cronin holds a well-earned B.F.A. in Music, and the difference between MC and MCII is all in the arrangements. A lovely and melodic violin solo goes to K. Dylan Edrich on “Peace of Mind,” working just as well as the fuzzy guitar shredding on lead single “Weight.”

An ample sprinkling of piano throughout the album also helps to brighten the mood and soften the tone of the songs, which deal with self-doubt and the angst of growing older. “Piano Mantra” especially shows Cronin’s gift for introspection. But don’t think that Cronin doesn’t know how to get loud. The climax of “Change” comes with a complete strings-and-electric-guitar psychedelic freak out, and “Shout It Out” goes full-force as a pure, adrenaline-filled garage rocker.

As a whole, the album is nearly flawless, constantly holding the listener’s attention and never doubling over on itself. Released in early May, MCII was made for the summer: bright, poppy, but never simple, drab, or conventional. SPIN Magazine, Pitchfork, and Consequence of Sound all gave it top ratings upon its release, and it’s at the top of my personal Best of the Year So Far list (which is now quite long). MCII not only the best music of its kind, but the best music of any kind.

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott:

Alt-J, "Fitzpleasure" - The young band from Leeds, home to Gang of Four, throws a lot of stuff against the wall and somehow it sticks on this delightfully weird, rocking song. There are many other, varied pleasures on the band's debut album, "An Awesome Wave."

Frank Turner, "Recovery" - The British singer-songwriter/punk rocker points to Springsteen as an inspiration, and you can certainly feel that kind of energy spewing forth in this passionate single. On this song, though, he reminds me more of Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller. Either way, it sounds like he's got a lot of good years ahead of him.

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Alt-J Frank Turner Morning Mix Scott Mervis The 9:13 Buzz

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Andy Mulkerin of Pittsburgh's City Paper.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Andy:

The Van Allen Belt, "Songs" - This is a local band that's been around for some years and is starting to gain real momentum. They do cool stuff with live performance and sound collage; Tamar Kamin's vocals are beautiful to boot. This is from the 7-inch of the same name, which is in advance of their new full-length, coming in the fall.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, "Holy Roller" - This was the first single from Thao's new album, We the Common. Big fan of her as a songwriter, and I'm excited about the new album, her first with this band in several years.

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9:13 Buzz Andy Mulkerin Morning Mix Thao and the Get Down Stay Down The Van Allen Belt

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Tady of The Beaver County Times.

In case you missed it here's what he played (with commentary by Scott).

Free Time, “I Lost Again” – We all could use a little Free Time. That’s the Aussie-New York quartet that yesterday released its debut album, “Underwater Peoples”. They’re mostly dream-pop with a hint of shoe-gazer. The singer, Dion Nania, has a voice that reminds me of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid. Nice bittersweet lyrics about longing and trying to find one’s place, purpose and soul mate.

The Sparrows, “Star Crossed” – One of my favorite Western Pa. bands. They wear their passion for Americana on the sleeves of their vintage-looking cowboy shirts. Based in Ellwood City (birthplace of Donnie Iris!), the Sparrows took their sweet time on this sophomore release, coming up with a well-crafted collection of hooks and solid storytelling. This song ponders why so many of us spend so much time chasing after an elusive romance, or pining for a former lover.

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Free Time Morning Mix Scott Tady The 9:13 Buzz The Sparrows
Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Justin Jacobs (talking to us from Israel via Skype!), contributing writer to Billboard & Relix Magazine.

In case you missed it, here is what he played with commentary by Justin:

T. Hardy Morris, "OK Corral" - Don't let the T. fool you, this is the same Hardy Morris who fronts the awesomely heavy Southern rock band Dead Confederate. On his solo debut single, he stops being so damn intense and just hangs out - this track is about as loose and easy as it gets, but he keeps things interesting with a catchy chorus and some great, laid-back harmonies. His debut solo album, Audition Tapes, drops in July.

Roadkill Ghost Choir, "Beggars Guild" - These newcomers from Florida released this first single themselves this year, a teaser for their debut EP Quiet Light. And yes, this song is awesome, you're welcome - the rare song nowadays that can use a banjo and not sound like a Mumford and Sons rip-off. But be aware: this is the only folk-y song on Quiet Light. The rest sounds like It Still Moves-era My Morning Jacket. I know! So great!

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott:

Vampire Weekend, "Diane Young" - I'm still on the fence about this song because the autotune really is kind of annoying, but I like everything else that goes around it. Despite cribbing from Paul Simon and Talking Heads, this over-hyped band sounded fresh when it first popped up, and two albums later, that feeling remains.

Of Monsters and Men, "Mountain Sound" - Here I am doing my job of breaking new bands on the 9:13 Buzz. Just kidding. There's almost no way you haven't heard this band, unless you only listen to talk radio,
in which case you're probably not reading this anyway. This play was a nod to summer concerts, and this one should be a highlight (Stage AE, June 12, as it's one of the few bands coming we haven't seen before. Whether you like Top 40 or indie rock, it's hard to argue that Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir has a gorgeous voice.

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Morning Mix Of Monsters and Men Scott Mervis The 9:13 Buzz Vampire weekend

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Andy Mulkerin of Pittsburgh's City Paper.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Andy:

Futurebirds, "Serial Bowls" - Nice alt-country-ish tune from the Athens, Ga., group that just released its Fat Possum debut (though the band's been around a few years and released records elsewhere). It has that crunchy guitar tone I'm known to enjoy.

The Joy Formidable, "This Ladder Is Ours" - I'm a big fan of this Welsh three-piece with the big rock sound. The new record, Wolf's Law, is a little more upbeat and a little more consistent than the first; some say that makes it inferior, but I tend to disagree.

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Andy Mulkerin Futurebirds Joy Formidable Morning Mix The 9:13 Buzz

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Tady of The Beaver County Times.

In case you missed it here's what he played (with commentary by Scott).

Escondido, "Evil Girls" - This Nashville duo serves up a spaghetti-western vibe. It's all good (not bad, or ugly), especially when singer Jessica Maros' voice comes floating in. She might make you
think of Mazzy Star. They've got another song, "Bad Without You," in which she sings about "In the hills of Pennsylvania, closer to the moon/I'm bad without you." Well, all right then! Escondido made its national TV debut this month on Conan.

Said the Whale, "I Love You" - The Vancouver alt-rock quintet revs up the fun on a road-trip-worthy, Dandy Warhols-ish single from an EP arriving June 18. Sample lyrics: "You're kind of sad but I love you/You're kind of rough but I love you/Maybe I'm broke but I love you/I know it's stupid but I love you." Guess that's what you'd call unconditional love.

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Escondido Said the Whale Scott Tady Morning Mix The 9:13 Buzz
Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Justin Jacobs (talking to us from Israel via Skype!), contributing writer to Billboard & Relix Magazine.

In case you missed it, here is what he played with commentary by Justin:

The Features, "This Disorder" - These dudes have been around forever, but they've never quite had that breakthrough. Signed to Kings of Leon's label, this cut is off their latest, self-titled album. It's the catchiest slice of indie pop I've heard all day, and just may give The Features a well-deserved stab at the big leagues.

Portugal. The Man, "Evil Friends" - The first single off of Portugal. The Man's latest album is a trip, and a great indicator of the record: it's both the poppiest and most sinister thing they've done yet. This band was on an album-a-year streak, but this record took them two. The time off shows, and it's a creative, wonderfully weird album — and their first with producer Danger Mouse.

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Justin Jacobs Portugal. The Man The 9:13 Buzz The Features

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott:

Kurt Vile, "Never Run Away" - Another hazy stoner track from the Philly rocker who finds the sweet spot between classic and indie rock. This is one of the few radio-sized cuts from his fifth album, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, a 69-minute double LP that finds most of the songs stretching past the 7 minute mark.

Kacey Musgraves, "Follow Your Arrow" - Yes, she's a singer with a shot at mainstream success, but there's a refreshing authenticity to the songs on her major-label debut "Same Trailer Different Park." On this breezy and clever song, she makes a case for being yourself whether that means smoking weed or experimenting with sexuality.

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