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!
In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Justin. Click the title to hear the song!
"Oh jeez, it's the daunting time of the year when I have to pick favorites. Selecting favorite songs or albums is like (I imagine?) picking your favorite kids — it really depends what mood you're in. There are other songs that, at other points, I like better than these three (namely, anything off the new Vampire Weekend or Kanye West records), but here are my picks for Favorite Tracks of 2013."
Mikal Cronin, "Weight" - Sometimes, simplicity is key. Mikal Cronin's latest album, MCII, isn't great because of it's weirdness or sonic exploration or whatever — it's just a great, straightforward garage rock record. Sweet melodies, fuzzy guitars, bittersweet lyrics. What's better than that?
Phosphorescent, "Song for Zula" - Then, on the other side of the spectrum, is this bad boy. Over six minutes of layered strings and dense emotional content. It reminds me of Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia." It takes patience, but boy does it hit you hard.
Portugal the Man, "Atomic Man" - And, of course, a party jam! Portugal finally made a record fusing all their strengths and weirdness together into something altogether new and exciting. Produced by Danger Mouse, their album "Evil Friends" is the record of the year for getting your friends to ask "Dude, who is this?" at your next house party.
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.