Far From Over, Mac DeMarco Avoids Sophomore Slump On Salad Days

by | Apr 16, 2014 | MUSIC

I have such a disdain for the singer-songwriter archetype. I typically find it super contrived and tend to think there’s some sort of egotistic and self-gratifying personality behind the guitar, keyboard or piano of a singer-songwriter.

I have such a disdain for the singer-songwriter archetype. I typically find it super contrived and tend to think there’s some sort of egotistic and self-gratifying personality behind the guitar, keyboard or piano of a singer-songwriter.

I know my opinion about such types of musicians is pretty scathing. However, there are exceptions. Among the notable singer-songwriters that I really adore is Mac DeMarco. The antithesis to the seemingly egotistical personality of solo artists, Mac DeMarco approaches his craft with a laid back attitude, writing poppy, yet jangly, psychedelic, glam-y blues-rock songs in a manner that seems effortless.

His music and peculiar sense of humor has earned him the title of “slacker rock.” He looks like some sort of sleazy, gap-toothed, crusty teenager, and has been known to act extremely outlandish during sets. He does things like cross-dressing, getting naked, sticking drum sticks up his bum, and performing classic rock covers in which he replaces lyrics he’s forgotten with vulgarities and obscenities.

While the “slacker” moniker has become associated with his name during his rise to popularity, DeMarco has been constantly touring the US and abroad in the two years since his 2012 debut, 2, came out. In interviews, DeMarco has vehemently denied being a perfectionist, but listening to his brand new album, Salad Days (Captured Tracks), you’ll think he’s actually put a lot more effort and care into the songs he’s written than everyone — even DeMarco himself — might imagine.

DeMarco is responsible for recording each instrument on the album. Even more impressive is the addition of instruments not used in his previous albums, making each song on Salad Days more unique than the last. The synth-focused track “Chamber of Reflection” sounds very similar to acts like Beach House and Purity Ring. I always appreciate seeing musicians develop and incorporate other kinds of music into their own sound, helping them stay relevant and fresh.

Continuing with the sound DeMarco developed on 2 and his first EP, Rock and Roll Night Club, he blends his weirder-than-usual approach to glam and psychedelic and finds a more concentrated sound. Salad Days is still lo-fi in some ways, with much of it recorded in DeMarco’s Brooklyn apartment. Despite the modest recording style, it sounds much bigger than 2.

A great example of this evolution can be found in the album’s dreamy second single, “Brother.” The song trades off between the glimmery guitar in the verses and chorus, and erupts in a very psyched-out stretch of noise with Mac crooning on top of it.

Compared to 2 and Rock and Roll Night Club, DeMarco has put more thought into his lyrics on Salad Days, attempting to leave behind his previous style of writing ambiguously, or about simple things like his devotion to his cherished brand of cigarettes, as he did on 2’s “Ode to Viceroy.”

In the aftermath of experiencing fame and critical acclaim for his first LP, many of his new songs and their lyrical content reflect more personal themes for DeMarco. On the album’s first singe, “Passing Out Pieces,” Mac declares, “Passing out pieces of me, don’t you know nothing’s free?”

On the title track, Mac sings about what it’s like finding commercial success, while lamenting getting older and no longer being a kid making music for creativity’s sake.

“Oh mama, actin’ like my life’s already over
Oh dear, act your age and try another year
Always feeling tired, smiling when required
Write another year off and kindly resign”

Having been released just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain, another “indie” artist who struggled with becoming an overnight celebrity and sensation, it’s interesting to consider the story of another artist acting counter-culturally, yet finding some mainstream success.

In a recent interview with Pitchfork, DeMarco said requests from his label, Captured Tracks, for “an upbeat single” bothered him. His response to the “request”; “Let Her Go,” a breezy, cheerful track with lyrics about giving up on a romance standing in contrast to its perceived musical mood.

While lyrics on the album do appear ambiguous, DeMarco has said some of the songs are about his three-year long relationship. Much more intimate than most of the previous material DeMarco has released, the tracks “Let My Baby Stay” and “Go Easy” are about their migration to Brooklyn. Born as Canadian citizens and having both lived in Montreal before moving, the two are living complicated lives as non-US citizens facing potential legal trouble. For a musician who’s been labeled as “sleazy” and a “slacker,” these songs — and his musicianship on the whole record — showcase a much more human element to Mac.

Overall, Salad Days is a much more fluid, cohesive album than any of his previous records. While I very much admired his previous solo releases, Salad Days improves on his previous standard. It doesn’t falter at any point. It’s paced well and has already received way more plays than I would typically give any other new album that comes into my possession.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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