While the immediate catchiness of Mac DeMarco’s first two albums gained him a well-deserved following, the 23-year-old tries to escape his shadow and earn a slightly more serious reputation as a songwriter on his most recent album, Salad Days.
It’s nearly impossible to separate DeMarco’s impeccably chill personality from his music: he’s beloved by fans as a slacker caricature that effortlessly churns out sunny sounding anthems about his favorite brand of cigarettes. Up until now, his gap-toothed grin and cigarette-in-mouth, beer-in-hand charm seemed to eclipse any discussion about the quality of his music. (If you need evidence, check out this YouTube clip of DeMarco drunkenly screaming U2’s “Beautiful Day.” Naked, of course).
Perhaps exhausted from his flamboyant antics and constant jestering, Salad Days presents DeMarco in his most reclusive and introspective form, in an attempt to shed his reputation as a class clown. This movement is best summarized on “Passing Out Pieces,” where he sings over a catchy keyboard accompaniment, “Can’t claim to care, never been reluctant to share / Passing out pieces of me, don’t you know nothing comes free?” Conceding to his destructive tendencies, he whines over a fluttering layer of guitar: “What mom don’t know is taking its toll on me.”
“Passing Out Pieces” and “Chamber of Reflection” depict DeMarco in the midst of a self-defeating realization, as if two hours earlier he was the life of the party, and now he finds himself sprawled on the curbside, drinking alone.
The most striking aspect of Salad Days is DeMarco’s intuitive songwriting ability. His introductory guitar riffs, while incredibly simple, are contagiously upbeat. These pristine notes on “Go Easy” and “Brother” shimmer as he glides up the fretboard. Meanwhile, every line is delivered with overtly cool punctuation, like the way the Fonz slams the jukebox while entering a room.
Moreover, his desire to gaze inward provides new lyrical depth absent on his past two albums. Particularly, the songs “Blue Boy” and “Salad Days” expose a self-conscious 23-year-old worried about the immaturity people ascribe to him. He sings: “Blue Boy, older than the world knows,” and “Oh dear, act your age and try another year.” DeMarco delivers these lines with an air of sarcasm as if he considers maturity, to borrow words from Kurt Vonnegut, “To be an utter disappointment for which no cure exists.”
Other tracks paint DeMarco as a desperate, cross-eyed romantic. Some of the best songs on 2, like “My Kind of Woman” and “Still Together” were written about his girlfriend. Likewise, on Salad Days, “Let My Baby Stay,” “Let Her Go,” and “Treat Her Better” are examples of straightforward, sincere love songs that sound like he’s channeling classic Beatles, much like Paul McCartney’s “Michelle” of Rubber Soul.
While Salad Days epitomizes DeMarco as the class clown who secretly longs to be taken seriously, it’s unlikely you’ll see him wearing a suit and tie anytime soon. As someone who promises to get “fucked up” at every show touring the new album, we listeners will have to take him at face value: as a non-serious jester with very serious songwriting abilities.
Pick up Salad Days any time after April 1st via Captured Tracks.
article by Michael Roe