Mikal Cronin, Calvin Love, Cairo Gang | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Mikal Cronin

Mikal Cronin

Miles Pettengill

Mikal Cronin, Calvin Love, Cairo Gang 

When: Sun., Sept. 13, 8:30 p.m. 2015
Price: $15
I still experience some cognitive dissonance considering that LA pop merchant Mikal Cronin was introduced to many listeners (myself included) through his backup work for skuzzy psych-pop genius Ty Segall. In his own material Cronin’s a mild-mannered purveyor of soaring melodies and quasi-orchestral arrangements draped over scrappy rock rhythms, and with each new recording, including the recent MCIII (Merge), his hooky ambitions grow. The latest album sounds far closer to old-school Shins or the New Pornographers than it does to the grotty noise coughed up by Segall and associates like Thee Oh Sees and White Fence. Even at his most hard-rocking—like on the cowbell-driven rocker “Say,” for example—Cronin modulates furious riffing with surging horns and colorful vocal harmonies. There’s no reason to criticize him for pursuing a different path, because he’s clearly searching for his own comfort zone with this more elaborate approach—but he’s got at least a few more miles left to go.

Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Emmett Kelly has pinged between California and Chicago multiple times over the years, and tends to be known as much as a sideman for the likes of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Joshua Abrams, and Azita as for what he produces as a leader. It’s a shame too, because his work under the name Cairo Gang has been richly satisfying. The recent Goes Missing (God?) is another gem on which he plays and sings nearly everything (Abrams adds bass on a spooky reading of the pop standard “Some Other Time,” while Marc Riordan plays drums on “Ice Fishing” and the Beatlesesque ditty “Be What You Are”). Kelly’s Rickenbacker guitar emits a reedy twang that reveals his deep adoration for the Byrds, but his songcraft reflects a broader range of interests in rock history—you can pick out the Kinks here, the Velvet Underground there. It’s best, though, just to bask in Kelly’s gorgeous vocal harmonies, swirling arpeggios, and blossoming layers of harmony. And as great as Cairo Gang records are, it’s even better hearing the tunes live, when Kelly, along with a working band that includes bassist Ryan Weinstein and drummer Riordan, brings them to life with a greater energy but no less care.

— Peter Margasak
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