By 2015, it seemed that Mikal Cronin was heading towards becoming one of those reliable artists whose creative evolution is slow and deliberate, priorities geared more towards making people happy than making bold left turns. In short, it never seemed like Cronin was going to make a statement album, and that was perfectly fine for those who found delight in the hooky power-pop of his first three LPs. But it clearly wasn’t enough to satisfy Cronin himself, and Seeker aims to present him in a completely different light. Here, he bares it all on an album that quite obviously aims at some degree of emotional honesty.

To hear Cronin tell it, Seeker is the result of a time of personal exploration and strife. In interviews, he has spoken about wanting to get away from the grind of simply touring and releasing albums, and Seeker came about as a result of trying to express his insecurities and feelings in a more direct way. Thus, the fuzz-laden guitars of albums past have faded into the background, replaced with simpler, softer arrangements that place Cronin’s vocals and lyrics at the center of everything. There are moments when his band, borrowed from frequent collaborator Ty Segall, threatens to burst forth and properly rock, but these moments are few and far between. Seeker is a restrained affair, the work of someone aiming to present themselves in more of a traditional singer-songwriter mold. Occasionally, Cronin plays with dynamics quite well; the slow build of “Feel It All” is a well-worn trick, but it still works and Cronin commits to it both vocally and musically. There are elements of the old Cronin present here, but they’re presented in a way that’s more severe; from the sound of things, Seeker is Cronin’s posture at being a mature songwriter.

However, the inevitable problem with making lyrics a larger focus of one’s songs is that the lyrics are that much more open to scrutiny, and it’s here where Seeker stumbles. Truthfully, Cronin has never been much of a wordsmith; his talent is in reframing old ideas in a slightly more modern context rather than conceiving of something new entirely. As such, though Cronin aims for deep, searing emotional truth, he relies heavily on vague platitudes and clichés, all of which blunts the emotional impact of his songs. This wasn’t necessarily a problem on his older albums, which reveled in anthemic moments, but one walks away from Seeker without much of an impression about who Cronin is, despite his best efforts to let us in.

Try as he might to change things up, Mikal Cronin can’t help but give us more of the same on Seeker. Though it plays as serious, sincere singer-songwriter piece, Cronin’s expertise at garage-rock pastiche just can’t mesh with his intent to make something emotionally forward and truthful. There’s enough to like about Seeker’s darker edges to satisfy those who have already followed Cronin thus far, but the impression that the album can’t deliver on what it promises is inescapable.

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