Mikal Cronin has built a rapidly climbing reputation for cranking out hard-hitting indie-rock and power-pop nuggets that immediately demand attention.

The San Francisco singer-songwriter continues that on "MCIII" (Merge), the third installment in what he sees as a trilogy of songs that share a similar songwriting aesthetic. All five of the tracks on the album's first half could end up being indie-rock hits for Cronin, who first made his name as part of garage rocker Ty Segall's band.

"Turn Around" sets the scene for the album -- a competition between roaring guitars and a soothing string section that ends in balance. The first single, "Made My Mind Up" is a triumphant bit of power pop, with its massive-sounding riffs, dramatic drum fills and sunny harmonies. "Say" is all hopped up on frantic drumming and bass lines that mellow out as the horns and Cronin's delivery give the melody some weight.

However, it's the second half of "MCIII" that is the real surprise -- a six-song, mini rock-opera of sorts called "Circle" that calls to mind the ambitions of "Pet Sounds" without losing any indie-rock cred.

It starts out dramatically enough on "Alone," with an orchestral flourish that gradually dissolves into just Cronin and an acoustic guitar to mirror his solitude before erupting in rage with angry guitar riffs and horn blasts. That carries on in "Gold," with the vicious guitar work and chanting of lines like "Walk the city alone," balanced with Cronin's lovely vocal harmonies. On "Control," he is working through his anger, asking, "God, I need some control," over a jangling rock backdrop that could have come from R.E.M. circa "Out of Time," but he finds the will to carry on in the Nirvana-like basher "Ready."

For "MCIII," Cronin pushes boundaries on all fronts, arriving on a whole new plateau as an artist and a rocker that is a thrill to hear.

 

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MIKAL CRONIN

 

"MCIII"

THE GRADE A-

BOTTOM LINE The indie rocker expands his sonic palette with great results