Mac's back with Salad Days
“As I’m getting older” is the first thing Mac DeMarco says on Salad Days, his third album in as many years, and I don’t think it’s a happy accident. It’s literally the first thing you hear, along with his trademark “jizz-jazz” guitar and loose, relaxed beat. DeMarco’s new album was announced with the claim that he’d grown up, matured, and was making his most anticipated album yet. That claim is obvious from the moment you’ve pressed play.
Salad Days is definitely more grown up than the stellar 2, and assuredly more mature than the first DeMarco release, Rock and Roll Night Club, but it’s also more pensive, gentler, and quieter than its older brothers. Mac experienced breakout success with 2, which launched him and his band on a ten-month-long global tour, playing its cruisey, laid-back jams to sold out venues, often with capacities breaching the 1,000 mark. This, mere months after playing unintentionally secret shows in Vancouver. So, Mac has obviously had some growing up to do, but as that opening line on “Salad Days” (the first song on Salad Days) says, he’s still in the process. An album like this isn’t made by one reflecting on some rose-tinted, long-lost youth; it’s created by one going through the process of maturing, of moving away from youth and into some kind of childish adulthood, during its creation. Songs like “Passing Out Pieces” see Mac not only reflecting on the life he’s led and how it’s affected him (at 23), but also see his songwriting move toward adulthood; the music itself actually sounds like he’s being serious, despite his continuing use of the $30 guitar, and broken 8-track recorder. The music on Salad Days leaves room for the reflection that Mac’s clearly interested in exploring lyrically. However, the humour that was sprinkled throughout 2 has been watered down a little, in fact it’s noticeably absent, but that’s in no way a detraction. Where “Ode to Viceroy” is a great, light-hearted tune, “Brother”, off Salad Days, is a great, down to earth song, one that shows the growth DeMarco is undertaking.
Many of the songs, though quite universal in their scope, seem directed back at himself, through the third person. There’s “Blue Boy”, a song aimed at a young man “worried about the world’s eyes”, as well as “his haircut”, whom Mac instructs: “calm down / grow up”. It’s hard not to take this song as DeMarco singing entirely to himself, almost as a mantra, forcing himself to sit down, focus, and come up with the goods. Then there’s “Treat Her Better”, a simple song, again seemingly aimed at a young man, this time who can’t see the benefit of being more thoughtful towards his significant other. Combine this with “Let Her Go”, about being honest with yourself and your partner, and it seems Mac is milking his girlfriend, the Kiki (Keira) of the gorgeous post-song banter on “Still Together”, the final song on 2, for creative inspiration. Interestingly, he says, “absence is s’posed to / make the heart grow fonder / but it don’t”; perhaps a reflection on the extensive touring that saw Mac and Kiki apart for much of 2013. All of these songs, on the surface, have no direct subject, they share a non-specific “you”. But I think it’s clear they are, at the very least in part, directed at DeMarco himself. And judging from the antics his live shows are known to feature, he seems like a person who needs that kind of self-criticism/-exploration/-guidance.
Now, despite my admiration for the way the music on Salad Days seems to leave some space for the lyrics and the themes, I want to stress that at no point is it self-conscious. That’s the case with all of DeMarco’s music; he’s incredibly adept at making music that just is, that just flows, songs that never remind that that is just what they and all they are: three minute pieces of music made by a person or persons who can play their instruments well enough to construct a listenable tune. DeMarco’s music feels natural, like a breath or a blink. The way the songs move from intro to verse to chorus, from there to a guitar solo, then back into the chorus is always smooth and guileless, like you’re watching DeMarco and band just do what comes to them. There’s something about the sound DeMarco has, one that comes from either a gargantuan effort or none (it’s hard to tell with Mac), that makes this innocent delivery all the more affecting. If it were some folk troubadour it would feel forced and just wouldn’t be as appealing. It’s the crisp, round guitar, plodding bass, and loose drums that make his sound both familiar and distinct; all elements recorded by him in his new room in a Brooklyn apartment. Then there’s the synthesiser that makes a more prominent appearance on Salad Days than it has on Mac’s other two albums, featuring on “Passing Out Pieces”, and providing all the music on “Chamber of Reflection”. The prominence is welcome; it feels unique and original, despite the perhaps over saturation of synthesisers in music.
Then again, all the elements of a Mac DeMarco song could be called over saturated; electric guitar, “indie rock”, themes of love and vices and leaving youth behind, and yet DeMarco has a place. He utilises these things in a way no one else does; the slick, nonchalant schoolboy attitude he carries himself with effects the old themes of pop songs like nothing else can. He’s an individual with a vision that he is able to express, shape and make real in a way that deserves attention. His music is just that; music, but it’s also much more. It’s performance art, but it’s not intrusive or dictating, it’s pop music, but it’s made with heart and hands. It doesn’t have an agenda, it’s not trying to trick you or berate some deep philosophical enlightenment into you. It simply is and that’s why it’s so amazing. In a world filled with distractions and time-sucks, DeMarco’s music has a justified place as a distinctly human thing, worthy of your time and your ear.
Honestly, I would encourage anyone to listen to any Mac DeMarco album; 2 is amazing, Rock and Roll Nightclub is great too, and Salad Days carries on that strong lineage easily; it jangles, rolls, and bends straight into your heart. I don’t know why it’s called what it is, but Salad Days is an astounding album, one that everyone should spin at least once. DeMarco hasn’t rested on his laurels; Mac’s back baby, Mac’s back.