Mikal Cronin is back after four years with his fourth solo album, Seeker. Recorded with his touring mates of two years Ty Segall, Emmett Kelly, Charles Moothart and Ben Boye from the Freedom Band, and good friend Jason Quaver after a rough couple of years that led to a month-long recluse in Idyllwild that he was forced to escape from after a series of fires set the woods aflame, the album explores transformation and growth in his most organic sounding release to date.
Shying away slightly from some of the conventions of his previous albums, this one explores a wider breadth of sound and composition, while also being the most consistent in finish and production. Tracked live with his band-mates and written mostly in a period of escaping tours and big cities, the album sounds incredible, a testament that elements of music played by actual humans are impossible to recreate otherwise.
The album kicks off with “Shelter,” a song that doesn’t really sound like anything Cronin has released previous, which is an exciting way to begin the record. A synth line on the right channel lays down a sinister, groovy background for the guitars and strings to come in and stand out above the synth. It’s a good way to introduce the more stripped-down approach to recording the album. Immediately the live viola, cello and violin on the track give the song a lush breath of fresh air, making the song feel like an apt introduction to the most mature project Cronin has released to date.
“Show Me” seems to be the most evident track of all the best things about what makes Seeker different than MC, MCII and MCIII. The song sounds big but grounded, each guitar sounding crisp and with a refined clarity that feels very biotic, Shannon Lay and Heidi Alexander’s background vocals providing warmth to the track, and Ben Boye’s piano sounds as organic and untouched and Cronin’s vocals. This formula seems to be the sonic thesis for the album, and also the best example of how Mikal has gone through the change that he is yearning for when he wrote this material.
“Feel it All” is the first song on the album that sounds like a traditional Cronin composition, with a crescendo-to-climax structure that is effective and evocative of his previous work. “Sold” follows a similar structure, reminiscent slightly of older tracks such as “Piano Mantra” or “Say" but implementing the crisp, transparent recording and mixing process that shines throughout the album.
“Fire” and “Show Me" feel like two leaves off the same branch, clean and tight, crisp in being able to hear each player so distinctly, it sounds reminiscent of the cleanest Beatles recordings, a-la White Album or Abbey Road, which for the Cronin/Segall/Moothart gang feels relatively unique, as they are some of the best garage/DIY guitarists in the genre, and their best works tend to also be fuzzier, grainier and more compressed than most of Seeker.
“I’ve Got Reason” is the first track after the opener that is louder, grungier, with Ty Segall’s dynamic fuzzy bass punching up the sound further than any time previous on the record. Here is where two years of touring straight together with Emmett Kelly, Charles Moothart and Ty shine through, the band sounding like either a GØGGS instrumental or a cut off Freedom’s Goblin during the last minute of the track.
“Caravan” has a similar dynamic, punchier energy, but the different lineup on this track, with Marc Riordan on drums, William Tyler on guitar and Ryan Weinstein on bass, definitely give it a noticeably different sound. More organic than “I’ve Got Reason,” a bluesier strut that contains the first time Cronin’s Saxophone stands out in the mix on the record.
Even with these two tracks, the organic approach to how the album was recorded still gives the songs more air to breathe than some of Cronin’s past songs, or songs written by the Freedom Band under Segall. The record is mixed to feel live, and even it’s loudest moments don’t take that away from it.
"Guardian Well” brings the Freedom Band back, and with it a more familiar sound than the previous two tracks, which brings the record back to the place that side A took us through. Mikal's harmonica performance is a special moment on the record, stripping the sound down to a more organic place; Ty’s bass is clean as it was on the first tracks he’s on, and Emmett and Cronin seem to share pretty equal guitar responsibilities, which give the song a large, robust sound that Mikal’s compositions tend to arrive to.
“Lost a Year” takes us back to the familiar Cronin territory that “Feel It All” explored, starting slow and meditative, and slowly rising to become a kinetic jam that feels angsty and impulsive, yet still incredibly tight between all the individual players. Moothart’s drums really take flight on this track, showcasing that this is still the Freedom Band backing Mikal, and they can take things up a notch when necessary with plenty of style.
The album mellows out with closing track “On the Shelf," featuring Mikal alone on guitar (the only track with no collaborators), a love song that seems more like somebody looking back and telling their younger self that everything is going to work itself out and that there are answers to what it is he seeking.
Seeker is an album about looking for answers when you feel an absolute need for change, about sacrifice and compromise in the search for transformation, and eventually confronting one’s self and yearning to push beyond what’s there. It’s organic, clean and with a very easily listenable mix, every element distinguishable. The record sounds like a live band tracked playing together, rather than individually, and live brass and strings give the album a grounded, personal touch that plays into the earnestness of the lyrics.
Overall, it’s an exciting step forward for Mikal Cronin, who of all of Ty Segall’s collaborators and peripheral projects seems to be most commonly underrated, and this album shows that Cronin merits more celebration. He seems to be able to truly take what all of his friends do best, and make it work with and for his sound, which has a distinct style. If this is a step in a renewed direction for Mikal, Seeker proves that his desire for rebirth brought about his most bold and confident statement as an artist yet.
Adrian Vega Albela Osorio is a 23-year-old multimedia artist from Mexico based in Los Angeles. His work focuses on documenting the contemporary underground psychedelic music scene in Los Angeles. Follow Adrian on Instagram @stripedbeatle.