Indie Rock is a genre muddled with pretension and irony with some acts taking themselves more seriously than they should. Mac DeMarco has established himself as the polar opposite where everything is subject to ridicule and parody. His outrageous shows alone have become the stuff of legend – the most infamous one involving a drum stick that ended up in DeMarco’s hind parts. His goofy, gap-toothed grin is a disclaimer that almost everything will be tongue-in-cheek. Even the bands that DeMarco played with were gags from the get-go with names like Makeout Videotape. It seemed that, even as a solo act, he was only interested in weirding people out or making music for laughs with Rock and Roll Night Club.
The cover showed the reflection of DeMarco in a dirty mirror, smearing lip stick on his face. The songs inside were delivered in a sleazy, Elvis impersonation. But Rock and Roll Night Club proved to be an oddity as 2 displayed a more capable artist who had proficient songwriting abilities in creating hypnotic melodies, catchy hooks and subject matter that was not a novelty (see: “Baby’s Wearing Blue Jeans”). The songs themselves though were still playful but they sounded less like the id of a guy who described his own music as “jizz jazz”. After taking 2 on the road, playing the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival and becoming part-time interviewer for MTV’s Weird Vibes series, DeMarco has followed-up his debut album with Salad Days.
The album opens up with a song of the same name which finds the 23 year old songwriter being told by everybody to grow up. As you continue on, it seems that outside influences have finally gotten to DeMarco. Missing are the cheeky odes to cigarettes and ditties about dysfunctional suburbia; Salad Days is a reflection on DeMarco’s youthful inexperience as well as a messy blueprint as to how to proceed. This is reflected in songs like “Treat Her Better” which seems not like advice from the artist but from a friend who is noticing a screwy relationship from the outset. There’s also “Let Her Go”, “Blue Boy” which also suggest that most of the narration has flipped from the first person exploits of the nicorette chewing class clown to concerned observers.
When it is explicitly first person accounts, we find someone who isn’t as peppy or bouncy on the last outing. “Passing Out Pieces” is a tired, mid tempo song that just wallows around in a dense fog of fuzz while DeMarco details his life in the public eye. “Passing out pieces of me/you know nothing comes free,” he drones, sounding exactly like someone who has spent the past year and a half on the road.
DeMarco himself described the mood of Salad Days as tired and he achieves just that. The bounciness of both 2 and Rock and Roll Night Club have been replaced for slow, psychedelic songs that put you in a drowsy state. “Chamber of Reflection” utilizes chintzy synthesizer that sound like they’ve been ripped from an overused tape of Neverending Story which lends the song an eerie dream effect. DeMarco can still craft ear worm guitar lines like those on “Brother” but it feels like you’re walking through weed rather than Viceroy smoke. This is not to say that the sound of this album compared with the previous few are drastic. It’s a subtle, nuanced change from bouncy to mid-tempo which gives the impression that this is the most tired DeMarco can sound without the help of slowing down the recording to play like a chopped and screwed tape.
One of the biggest departure’s from DeMarco’s guitar-driven style is “Let My Baby Stay” which is anchored by a glockenspiel around smooth strumming guitars which gives the song a more tropical feel. The song, according to DeMarco, comes from the struggle of trying to keep his longtime girlfriend Kiera McNally in the United States though she is technically an illegal immigrant from Canada. Yet, the vibe feels less about problems in a bohemian enclave than it does about the Doctor and his Maryann trying to stay together despite outside elements on a deserted island.
The album’s biggest accomplishment is in establishing DeMarco as a more mature songwriter. Despite what his public persona may suggest, his songs have become a lot more personal and a little bit more focused in the feelings he wants to display. The sense of reflection that he is able to convey throughout this record speaks to his progression as someone who has the potential to be one of the best songwriter’s in indie rock.
Salad Days could possibly signal a change from jizz jazz originator to a more serious songwriter. I would prefer that DeMarco continue to walk the line between the two like he has done on 2. With the Mad Magazine grin and the April Fool’s release date, I don’t think we can expect DeMarco to take himself too seriously any time soon.