Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut from 2011 was all about endings: the end of college, the end of a serious relationship, and the end of his time in Los Angeles, where he grew up. So it’s no surprise that his sophomore release MCII—and first disc for Merge Records—is all about new beginnings. “Since the first record came out, my life has changed quite a bit,” Cronin says, referencing his move to San Francisco and tours with Ty Segall as well as with his own band. “I was presented with a whole new slew of problems and situations that I was trying to work through.”

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Oftentimes, Cronin is arguing with himself about what he wants and needs. “If there’s a theme running through this record, it’s contradiction,” he says. “The songs are all dialogues with myself.” Like the best artists, Cronin turns his inner turmoil into effervescent pop on MCII. “Am I Wrong” and “Shout It Out” dissect his fears over a new relationship, while “I’m Done Running from You” and “Weight” find him freaking out about what it means to grow up in the 21st century. Recorded in late 2012 by Eric Bauer at Bauer Mansion in San Francisco (except for “Don’t Let Me Go” which was recorded by Cronin at home), MCII includes guest appearances by K. Dylan Edrich (viola and violin on “Peace of Mind” and “Change”), Charles Moothart (drums on “Change” and “Turn Away”), Ty Segall (guitar solos on “Am I Wrong” and “I’m Done Running from You”), and Petey Dammit (slide guitar on “Peace of Mind”). Other than these few exceptions, Cronin played all of the instruments. “It all makes total sense to me, but when I step back, it sounds kind of schizophrenic,” Cronin says. “Hopefully it all sounds enough like me to make sense.”