opinion byAUSTIN REED
In the event of a confrontation with the police, Mac DeMarco is probably not an ideal accomplice. From a live-music perspective, his reputation precedes him; we’re talking about the guy who, at one point, got so bored with on-stage full frontal nudity that his next logical step was to shove a drumstick up his ass. Countless other instances just like this one have become a mainstay for DeMarco over his relatively short stint in the business.
And this is perfectly okay for two reasons. Typically, artists pull these types of stunts to provoke a reaction. The reaction itself isn’t important, because bad publicity is still publicity. DeMarco, on the other hand, has made it clear that the public opinion is not his concern. These antics provoke side-stage laughter from his buddies, and he wants his friends to be happy. In a strange way, it’s sort of endearing.
But more importantly, it has become the accepted accouterment to DeMarco’s bigger picture. All shenanigans aside, he’s an immensely talented artist with a lock-tight understanding of both the gravity of his influences and the fine line that exists between channeling them and ripping them off.
Not to worry: Of the numerous offenses of which DeMarco is guilty, imitation isn’t one of them. 2012 saw the release of debut LP 2, an album that did several things at once. It established a vocal personality that was as deliberate as it was palpably lethargic. From top to bottom and in various degrees, it showcased a guitar style that could soundtrack an allergic reaction to a bee sting. And it demonstrated exactly how committed to the craft DeMarco is; for as decidedly relaxed as his demeanor may be, it’s fair to say that his work ethic is slightly more elevated.
That’s what makes Salad Days one of the most exciting albums of the year. If 2 was a crudely timed cannonball, Salad Days is a perfectly executed swan dive. It takes the definitive melodic disposition we associate with DeMarco and incorporates a new, never-before-exhibited comfort level. This comfort no-doubt stems from his experience on the road, the fairly abundant validation he has received, and the kind of practice reps you get only by playing in front of live audiences night after night. But make no mistake: For all the pomp and circumstance preceding Salad Days, this is still an album that DeMarco recorded in his Brooklyn walkup. It’s a record that boasts glaring maturity without diminishing the iconic immaturity.
As such, DeMarco wastes no time setting the cadence. Album opener and title track, “Salad Days,” is an alleyway anthem depicting how aware he is of his growth and what popularity demands of him nowadays. “Always feeling tired, smiling when required, write another year off and kindly resign,” is the type of lyric that, until now, has only existed implicitly. But DeMarco has graduated from allegation, and he uses his signature vocal amble to inject painfully realistic life into every word. It’s a theme found all throughout Salad Days but no more tangible than it is here.
Then there’s leadoff single, “Brother,” a track that could exist as the more weathered and more understated older sibling to 2’s, “Freaking Out the Neighborhood.” Here, the foundation is built upon DeMarco’s development as a guitarist and his cultivation of a style that’s neither flashy nor ambient. Where, “Neighborhood,” could sub as an erratic Mark Knopfler B-side, “Brother,” operates on a much more controlled frequency, demonstrating DeMarco’s understanding that the most intricate riffs in the world are hardly ever the fastest.
The album’s most powerful tracks, “Let Her Go,” and “Chamber of Reflection,” illustrate in two very different ways just how far DeMarco has come since 2. “Let Her Go,” an alarmingly seasoned dissertation on romantic ambivalence, presents a harmonic sensibility and catchiness that doubles as a beachy background jam and as a flashback to your love life in high school. Considering how those two things rarely elicit the same type of emotional condition, “Let Her Go,” delivers a poignant reflection on confusion by being poignantly confusing itself.
But “Chamber of Reflection,” saunters like a drunk breeze. Despite Salad Days’ penchant for drifting, “Chamber,” is the only track that sounds like it actually moves in slow motion. It would have been the easiest track to omit, but it possesses a viscerally touching melody that makes it an indispensible addition. With certain grace, it evokes the pain of solitude and the frustration of misunderstanding, and in terms of musical evolution, it’s DeMarco’s largest and most apparent step forward.
Prior to Salad Days, Mac DeMarco was maybe the most self-aware songwriter on the planet who had no interest in understanding the benefits of self-awareness. From studio to stage, this was all just a game to him—a game that was won by abandoning the rules. But that’s not the Mac DeMarco present on Salad Days. This is someone different. Someone who, if only minutely, understands that sometimes, you can win by losing. A drumstick up the ass might be funny, but it pales in comparison to the hilarity of life at its most unforgiving. B+