There’s little more than a glint of seriousness in the look of Mac DeMarco, the 23-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter who starting turning heads with 2, his 2012 debut LP. Decidedly an eccentric, the gap-tooth, flannel-donning prankster has been recorded stripping naked at his concerts, capitalizing on his fame with less-than-savory spectacles and lewd antics. Generally regarding his success as unfounded, DeMarco has grown increasingly playful during his foray into public life. His music, however, is a different story.
Salad Days, DeMarco’s second full-length album, speaks much more to his identity as an artist than a performer. Although not quite airtight, the record is remarkably well put together, especially considering DeMarco’s chaotic public persona. Often characterized as “slacker-rock,” the music itself borders on psychedelic. A multi-instrumental musician, DeMarco was involved in nearly all levels of the album’s productions, with talents in guitar, drums, the keys, and bass. His extreme involvement in the music is, in part, what makes Salad Days so easy to get lost in.
Admittedly, the record’s instrumentals are far from being dense and concentrated-often held together in a trance-like state. Salad Days‘ spacey, arrhythmic drums and ungrounded guitar parts could hold the Beatles’ stint with substance-inspired songwriting to shame, even during the band’s druggiest phase. As far as modern “singer-songwriters” go, DeMarco is lacking in coffee-shop appeal-his music belongs in smoke-filled lounge or crowded basement venue. It makes no pass at the mainstream.
Moving beyond appearances, however, and the commercially undesirable sound of Salad Days, there’s a lot to be admired in the 23-year-old’s tact. Lyrically, Salad Days is a sophisticated, thematically dense work that leaves listeners with a lot to think about. “Salad Days,” the record’s title track, has the coolness of Greenwich Village Bob Dylan-it’s a stylish, nasally track, unbound to its era.
For such a juvenile public figure, DeMarco introduces the theme of aging quite early on in the record (“Oh mama, actin’ like my life’s already over / Oh dear, act your age and try another year”). His lyrics get at a certain wistfulness and remorse hardly hinted at in his laid-back vocals and lackadaisical instrumental work (“Always feeling tired, smiling when required / Write another year off and kindly resign”). Salad Days is far more intense and far more purposeful than it sounds upon first listen.
“Passing Out Pieces,” the lead single off the album and arguably its strongest cut off, shows DeMarco off again as a surprisingly complicated thinker (“Can’t claim to care, never been reluctant to share / Passing out pieces of me, don’t you know nothing comes free?”). The actual color to DeMarco’s voice changes throughout the album, at parts Dylan-esque in its appeal (i.e. “Salad Days”), but elsewhere showing an attractive rawness best likened to a young Mick Jagger.
By the album’s end, the listener is left to reconcile the young, carefree DeMarco with the dark, lyrical work he has created. The wild stage persona ostensibly seems like an extraneous dimension to an intelligent, capable artist, and yet, perhaps it’s a necessary mask. The actual content of Salad Days is difficult to pair with any crowd. Stripped of its carefree stoner aesthetics, Salad Days would be a record nearly impossible for anyone to digest.
DeMarco will cite that his unconventional performance methods (i.e. stripping down naked on stage) are meant to make the crowd more comfortable and open to the music. He has a manner of thinking about these things contrary to how most view performance-it’s widely considered that such spectacle is meant to distract from the music. And yet, DeMarco tells us something different, with his performances and his music. To see someone naked, intoxicated, and altogether making a fool of himself brings down our defenses, and allows us to forget the performer and begin finding a place in the music. Hearing a serious, old man sing about growing old and about loss, seems natural and expected, but when a seemingly carefree, insensible 23-year-old begins to talk serious, people will inevitably listen.