My band was barreling down Highway 8 from Phoenix to San Diego, where we drove past the same buttery sand dunes where, in Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt’s sail barge hovered, carrying its precious gold-bikini-clad cargo and an incapacitated Han Solo, frozen in carbonite — a brazen work of art which put helplessness on display. The episode was bleakness personified, exaggerated by infinitely remote and desolate surroundings.
Outside of actually being on Earth, there is not much earthly about this stretch of highway, and its stark, otherworldly terrain serves as a fairly blunt reminder of how far away home actually is. Being far away from your comfort zone means fearing for its intactness, while hoping the decisions you make are making you into a stronger, better person. Days merge together and suddenly you’ve completely lost any sense of space and time. For example, this sentence that I’m writing now, as in right now, I’m writing after I finished writing the rest of this piece. And I’m actually listening to “Heart of Glass” by Blondie now but there’s no reason for you to know that other than for context.
Stability is a fleeting perception when you make music your job and a lot of time on the road is spent wishing you had it. Instability leads to confusion, stress, frustration and loneliness, but it’s also very liberating and exciting. Add love, money (read: no money) and lack of sleep, and boom — when timed right, it can make for one hell of a coming of age story. When timed wrong, it can make for one hell of a quarter-life crisis — tomato, tomahto, the show must go on… but that doesn’t mean it’ll start on time. Are you still with me? It’s a vast and wonderful world, seasoned with the tangy spices of contradiction!
I’m not sure if Mikal Cronin talks about all of this shit on his new record, but I do feel like I can relate to some of the songs — the ones that paint a portrait of a conflicted Cronin — searching for clarity to be sure, but also for validation. The opening song “Am I Wrong” is an obvious example of the sort of inner conflict that’s both mesmerizing and relatable for me on this record and by the time the third song, “Don’t Let Me Go,” kicks in, I’m convinced the questions Cronin is asking himself and me are largely rhetorical, which adds a heavy element of desperation to the mix and, yeah, I feel like I know what he’s talking about. The tide that Cronin’s caught in throughout MCII is rough. The waves are unpredictable and it’s hard for him to keep his head above water. “Weight” discusses anxious anticipation (and there’s the subsequent anticipation of anxiety in there, too) but he at least entertains the importance of being brave in the face of those anxieties. Desolation, absolution, frustration, confusion. He asks and answers himself in “Am I Wrong,” which sheds light on the complexities of what is right, when you’ve got to make decisions with a heavy heart from an often compromised perspective.
When I started writing the opening paragraph of this review, I was on a bus to San Francisco, gearing up to spend a few days in the Bay Area with my fiancée between shows and other band-related obligations. Now, while I’m trying to wrap this thing up, I’m sitting shotgun in our van, 100 miles south of Seattle. A love-filled, albeit bittersweet weekend with my fiancée behind me and a couple of shows later, and everything in the past feels like a dream, the present is all a blur and the future seems vague and out of reach. This is a slim frequency of existence that’s ripe for introspection; MCII provides a familiar soundtrack.