Foggy Notion Review: Salad Days, MAC DEMARCO (Captured Tracks)

Mac-DeMarco

“That summer feeling is gonna haunt you, the rest of your life.” - Jonathan Richman Canadian-reared indie singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco can be deceptive. Shortly after graduating from an Edmonton high school, he high-tailed it to Vancouver in 2009 and started to record under the moniker of Makeout Videotape. Since then, DeMarco recorded and released two recordings (the EP Rock And Roll Night Club and 2) in the singular year of 2012. Not bad for a “slacker” persona mixed with the kind of on-stage antics (drunkenness, public nakedness, a penchant for swapping the set for cheesy cover songs, etc.) that The Replacements once gained a reputation for. Like The ‘Mats’ leader Paul Westerberg, DeMarco also shows a deep affection for classic pop, rooted from the late ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a cloak to wrap around the vulnerable and the melancholic lyrics, offering up a side of the songwriter one wouldn’t see on-stage. It’s clever. The listener who is bopping along to a pop melody suddenly realizes it’s a song that carries, in context, a weary, almost droopy, sadness.

From the opening cut, DeMarco’s new title track, “Salad Days,” the ringing chimes of his D.I.Y., self-modified, battered guitar, an African-guitar inflected cascading riff, immediately shadows the narrative. It sets DeMarco’s underlying tone of Salad Days; it’s his own innovative interpretation of Ray Davies’ “Waterloo Sunset.” “Always feeling tired. Smiling when required,” he sings. “Write another year off and kindly resign.”

It’s also telling of which buttons DeMarco chooses to pin on his unwashed sweatshirt. His musical influences diverge with Westerberg’s Big Star. DeMarco oddly distills ‘90s UK indie pop, namely The Smiths and Orange Juice, the aforementioned Kinks, with sly Steely Dan-influenced arrangements and a Jonathan Richman type of naïve warble.

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After extensive rounds of tours for a year and a half (directly referenced in “Passing Out Pieces”: “Seems that I every time that I turn, I’m passing out pieces of me, don’t you know. Nothing comes free.”), the chain-smoking songwriter literally woodsheded in his Brooklyn flat for a month to record Salad Days. Listening to DeMarco’s output in chronological order, it’s fairly straightforward to see his progression – as a songwriter, musician, producer, arranger and vocalist. There’s also a consistent thread of a hardcore Do-It-Yourself ethic. As in past solo releases, he takes care of all of the instrumental, vocal, orchestration and recording duties. It comes as no surprise that Salad Days is a continuation of the young musician’s ascension.

Despite the tropical, laid-back atmosphere of much of Salad Days, the arrangements are subtly sophisticated, peppered with inventive riffs and parts, raising songs, such as “Blue Boy,” “Treat Her Better” and “Goodbye Weekend,” from being one-dimensional. They would also make good neighbors with songs such as The Smiths’ “This Charming Man” or Orange Juice’s “Falling And Laughing,” two milestones of UK’s ‘80s indie pop scene. Both Johnny Marr and Edwyn Collins, in their own way, weaved African guitar riffs (artists such as The Bhundu Boys and King Sunny Ade were aired over the BBC from enthusiastic UK DJs such as John Peel and Charlie Gillett) into a fresh form of pop.

What initially comes as a bit of a surprise are the two synth-driven nuggets, the aforementioned, Gary Numan-like isolation of “Passing Out Pieces” and the lo-fi soul of “Chamber of Reflection”. However, they make sense. If the guitar-driven songs are DeMarco’s soundtrack to his imaginary beach, then these songs are the soundtrack to his mythical Tikki Lounge, so to speak. Though they are not fluff either; both compositions contain intricate, shimmering moments, executed on slightly off-kilter tunings from an equally off-kilter, antiquated synthesizer.

What marks Salad Days as a new rung on the ladder for DeMarco is how he has successfully managed, with an uncluttered production, to juxtapose and to merge musically that fading “summer feeling” with lyrically the struggles of his maturing sense of self. “I feel sort of weathered and beat down and grown up all of a sudden,” he said in a recent interview with Pitchfork. “I've always had some kind of plateau that I wanted to reach, and now I just can't see the next one.” However, DeMarco need not worry. Though he may occasionally paint himself as some kind of indie, idiot savant, he is anything but. More likely, DeMarco is the hesitant savant. Don’t be fooled.