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Mike Krol - Power Chords Music Album Reviews

Pledging allegiance to fuzz, this power-pop barrage squares off against heartache, disappointment, and sleepless nights—and survives.

The portrait of Mike Krol that graces the cover of his fourth album, Power Chords, could pass for a stock photo of any musician noodling alone on the guitar in a bedroom. Except Krol is sporting a black eye, a fat lip, and bloodied fingers. After listening to the record, you may be amazed he emerged with just a few bumps and bruises. Power Chords is among the most visceral and violent documents of heartache, disappointment, and sleepless nights in recent rock memory. Krol relives the details of broken relationships with muses both real and figurative, as if trapped in his own nightmarish version of Groundhog Day. Heads bang against walls. Hearts get stabbed. Ambulances are called. And yet, it’s also one of the most exuberant, energizing, and fun albums you’ll hear all year, maximizing both sides of the power-pop equation.

Krol has long fused cotton-candied melodies to pedal-pushing overdrive in a way that harkens back to the late-2000s bubble-punk of Jay Reatard, Smith Westerns, and King Tuff. But on Power Chords, Krol’s unwavering allegiance to fuzz feels less a function of practical necessity and more a requisite aesthetic enhancement for these 11 songs. Omnipresent distortion is the rusty blade that allows him to open up and bleed, to deliver each self-flagellating lyric as if shouting into the last functioning payphone in town.

At 33 minutes, Power Chords is about twice as long as the typical Mike Krol record, but it’s also his tightest and most frenzied work yet. Where past releases wandered into whimsical psychedelic balladry and meditative piano experiments, Power Chords commits to the woofer-blowing promise of its title with evangelical zeal. The record, Krol says, is his raucous reaction to a career-stalling bout of self-doubt and soul searching that followed his 2015 Merge debut, Turkey. It’s an attempt to reconnect with the primal pleasures of making an unholy racket, and “What’s the Rhythm” provides the perfect demonstration of this therapeutic mission. The verses present an unflinching portrait of emotional paralysis, but the killer chorus is instantly invigorating, like an adrenaline shot jabbed into the chest.

Even as Power Chords cruises in the red, Krol is constantly changing course. The careening “Little Drama” sounds like it could’ve been salvaged from Dave Grohl’s early Foo Fighters demos, but just when it seems like Krol is losing control, he shrewdly locks into a tambourine-rattled backbeat. “Nothing to Yell About,” meanwhile, belongs to an alternate universe where the Strokes never made it out of the Lower East Side, burrowed deeper underground, and started dabbling in space-rock freakouts. And with “Arrow in My Heart,” Krol drifts toward bona fide balladry, with a slow-motion T. Rex strut that strips away Marc Bolan’s cosmic jive to deliver brutal truth. “You shot that thing at me/And then you watched me bleed,” he sings to some unnamed adversary, “but then, when I come after you, I’ll let you know that I ain’t through.” Sure, a life in rock’n’roll has left Krol battered. But the resolute look in his eyes seems to say: Is that all you got?

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