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MIKAL CRONINTo say that Mikal Cronin has had a breakout year would be an understatement. Emerging from the party punk scene of San Francisco, Cronin's 2011 self-titled debut featured moments of such promising brilliance that it was hard to relegate it to being a fluke. Splicing the feel-good pop of the Beach Boys with the seismic tectonics of thrashy garage-punk, Cronin struck a new chord for sunny rock 'n' roll revelry. To boot, he played nearly every stitch of music on his debut.For MCII, released by Merge Records in May 2013, Cronin returned to the solo approach, but this time streamlined the flashes of excellence found on his debut, bull's eyeing the lovelorn wanderlust and doe-eyed sentimentality he hinted at before. Songs like “Change” writhe in washes of fuzzy punk, as do a majority of the tunes on MCII, despite their being essentially peppy pop love songs. The album's threadbare honesty made for an intriguing study of Cronin as a songwriter, despite a nearly cryptic lyrical foundation. Regardless, songs as strong as “Shout It Out” and “See It My Way,” in addition to compositions highlighting Cronin's piano skills (“Weight,” “Piano Mantra”) and string arrangements, offer a convincing argument that as an outsider looking in, Cronin's cornered an exciting new amalgam of American underground rock.MCII, summarily, was seated high on Best Of 2013 lists by various national and international publications, including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Paste, and Spin. SF Weekly called Cronin the best songwriter in the city in a May 2013 cover story.Cronin's virtuosic output has been well-documented, too. He's been a member of the hyper-prolific Ty Segall's live band, and appeared on Segall's critically acclaimed Slaughterhouse album. In addition, Cronin and Segall joined forces in 2013 for the collaboration that yielded the excellent LP, Reverse Shark Attack. Cronin is also an active member in the bands Epsilons, Okie Dokie, Party Fowl, and Moonhearts, and has released many singles through each of those projects. RYAN J. PRADO
BLOOD SISTERWhen guitarist Ezana Edwards of Brooklyn's Night Managers moved back to his hometown of San Francisco, he joined forces with Ryan Grubbs and Kyle Hoover of psychedelic guitar-pop locals Ganglians to form Blood Sister. The group's first release, the â€¡ EP, features four songs of lofty noise-pop lurking behind a glittering wall of DIY distortion.
OLD LIGHTPortland, Oregon's Old Light scramble their influences into an indefinable paste. Having undergone personnel and instrumentation facelifts (the band once centered their sound around back porch autoharp rock, and until recently boasted two drummers), the band retooled for a set of tape-only releases in 2013 that featured guitarist/vocalist Garth Klippert's fantastic smorgasbord of groovy, psych-rock inspirations. The band's debut album, The Dirty Future, promised a melding of American rock, often by way of tongue-in-cheek deliveries (finger-tapping solos are not unheard of with Old Light), and the band has rarely deviated from the ethos of evolution being their only constant. RYAN J. PRADO
Forming in Los Angeles in late 2012, Vertical Scratchers is John Schmersal (ex-Brainiac/Enon, live Caribou, and Crooks on Tape) and Christian Beaulieu (ex-Triclops!/Anywhere). The band's debut album, Daughter of Everything, was just released via Merge Records, and features the single “These Plains.” As evidenced by the teaser track, Vertical Scratchers revel in quick bursts of jangly punk, not unlike that of early Buzzcocks. The focus is on brevity, with little to no sonic fuckery, resulting in a raw energy that's tailor-made for energetic live shows. Stay tuned. RYAN J. PRADO