Indie rock youth Mac DeMarco was always eccentric, if not downright weird. He’s unsheathed his genitals in public, blows spit bubbles in photos, sometimes smooches his bass player – he even once rammed drumsticks up his butt on stage – antics which have earned him a name for drunkenly straddling the line between carefree and careless. Most recently, DeMarco leaked a fake song for a preview of this very album entitled “A Little Bit of Pussy.” With his perpetually unclean T-shirt, don’t-give-a-shit attitude and ragged baseball cap and Vans, DeMarco is the obnoxious millennial that haunts baby boomers’ dreams at night.
But this Canadian-born multi-instrumentalist isn’t all shenanigans and bad decisions. Like everyone else he has a serious side too, and although it’s not often seen by the public, his laid-back suburban wisdom becomes exposed through his superb music. There’s a gentle heart hidden in there somewhere, masked behind a cloud of Viceroy cigarette smoke and a layer of grease.
Opener “Salad Days” is far from the album’s strongest track, but it lays out the core ingredients that make up the album’s recipe: lazy, looping guitar riffs; a woozy beach groove that lopes along at mid-tempo; DeMarco’s surprisingly soothing voice underlying it all with a cool softness.
So, yes, it’s essentially the same mix of stuff that marked DeMarco’s last album as extremely listenable. As a whole, Salad Days is less a step away from 2 than it is a step forward along the same path — but it’s still progress nonetheless. Whereas the songs on 2 smacked of tongue-in-cheek humor and self-effacement, Salad Days features a DeMarco that has sobered up, his sense of introspection evidenced by lyrics like “No use looking out, it’s within that brings that lonely feeling.” It seems obvious that DeMarco is working through his own personal problems and wants to shed that jokester caricature. He’s not writing odes for his favorite brand of cigarettes anymore; he’s crooning his anxieties about love and growing old.
The album hits a high point early on in “Let Her Go,” a breezy tune inflected with a hint of tropical warmth, where the brightness of his harmonies is most palpable. In it he offers sage advice to an ailing friend, or perhaps to himself: “Tell her that you love her/if you really love her/but when your heart just ain’t sure/let her know.” Lyrical gems like that are scattered throughout Salad Days – DeMarco’s actually has a lot to say about love, as he dedicates three separate songs, “Let My Baby Stay,” “Treat Her Better” and “Let Her Go,” to his girlfriend Kiera McNally.
DeMarco’s adept songwriting is by no means the album’s only outstanding feature. His pearly guitar licks are bent and warped like light refracting through water, producing an unearthly feeling of gloom. Nuke a Vampire Weekend album in the microwave for a few seconds and you might achieve a similarly unsettling effect.
Not unlike Real Estate’s newly released Atlas, these are indeed songs that evoke images of the beach. But save this album for after the sun sets, when the sand has cooled and the coast is quiet. Mac DeMarco will be there with a cigarette, a grin, and a joke or two to help you feel a little less lonesome.
Inspired by a Masonic ritual of meditation, “Chamber of Reflection” is easily one of the best songs on the album. Not only does its languid electronic haze break away from the beach pop mold of some of the other tracks, it acts as a vehicle for DeMarco’s most mature sentiments. Likewise, the synth-heavy “Passing Out Pieces” droops and sags in all the right places.
DeMarco’s mellow guitar riffs are coincidentally their most emotive in the songs about his girlfriend: “Treat Her Better” and “Let Her Go” both shimmer, comparable only to the slick flairs of “Blue Boy.”
In an interview, DeMarco himself admitted to feeling worn out after a year and a half of consecutive touring. Salad Days is somewhat reflective of that. He hasn’t stepped fully out of his bounds yet, not because he’s content with meandering in one place, but because of the pressure to get the album out quickly.
He’s hinted that his next piece might be something a lot different: “I’ve been playing a lot of keyboards and writing with them, but I didn’t want to put out an album like that just yet. Maybe the next one.”
There’s still a lot of creative fervor going on under that greasy mop, so if DeMarco’s chain-smoking habit doesn’t completely vaporize his voice box he’s sure to release another fantastic album.
Reviewer: Kendall Russell
IRC: Bill Pulice
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