Album Review: Mac DeMarco—”Salad Days”

By Adam Bernhardt

Mac DeMarco’s recent ascendance makes it hard to believe that he was once reduced to participating in medical experiments in order to pay the bills after finding no luck in the music business. Initially releasing albums under the moniker “Makeout Videotape,” DeMarco’s solo release, the Rock and Roll Nightclub EP, brought him to the attention of the Captured Tracks label who agreed to release the critically acclaimed 2 album in 2012. Drawing on AM radio staples and a bevy of cheap guitar equipment, DeMarco’s brand of “jizz-jazz” proved uniquely captivating. This low-intensity mellowness perfectly complemented his laid-back word of cigarette butts and daydreams. Underpinning his goofy aloofness was always a certain earnest sincerity that was expressed in songs like “My Kind of Woman.” Salad Days maintains the quintessentially Mac nonchalance musically, but melancholic reflections on the trials of adulthood abound.

As if the title of the album alone wasn’t enough to emphasize its direction alone, the title track itself opens with, “As I’m getting older, chip up on my shoulder, rolling through life, to roll over and die.” From a man who once sang to the glories of cheap cigarettes and freaking out the neighbourhood, “Salad Days” suggests that perhaps the 23-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter is beginning to tire of the indolent life. Indeed, throughout the album, DeMarco consistently struggles with maturity and expectation; wrinkles are beginning to form on the sides of his Alfred E. Newman smile. The first single off the album, “Passing Out Pieces,” is easily one of DeMarco’s strongest tracks. Over a lurching synth and keyboard driven march, delivering not only a powerful earworm but also an awareness of the detriments “what mom doesn’t know” has taken on him. The worrisome “Blue Boy,” whose anxieties encompass not only the world but also his haircut, is told to calm down and grow up, the emptiness of these words clearly providing no consolation. “Chamber of Reflection,” much like “Passing Out Pieces,” makes great use of those curiously ’80s VHS-tier synthesizer lines, but with its chorus of, “Alone again, alone,” DeMarco points to the kinds of post-party drunken self-reflections that inevitably spiral downwards into a pit of self-loathing. “Let My Baby Stay,” with its clattering muted percussion and soft poolside guitar strumming, runs with the nocturnal reflections of “Chamber of Reflections,” the brief pleading falsetto near the end of the track an interesting highlight of the album.

It’s anyone’s guess how DeMarco will incorporate this downbeat reflective material into his notoriously raunchy live shows, but the relative ease with which he was able to “DeMarcize” Weezer’s “Undone” on The Onion AV Club indicates he’ll find a way. In the meantime, Salad Days’ slack vibes will no doubt become the choice soundtrack to the many porch-front parties that characterize Toronto in the summertime. But how many will, in between Belmont drags and Old Style tallboys, appreciate the irony? (Captured Tracks)

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