Artist: Mac DeMarco
Album: Salad Days
Label: Captured Tracks
If you’d told me four years ago that the snaggle-toothed, gap-grinned geek behind Makeout Videotape would be putting out an off-kilter pop record on Captured Tracks, I would have laughed in your face. Mac DeMarco’s radical spin into the spotlight might have been hinted at in the strength of some of his earlier—and by far less polished—offerings, like the excellent Heat Wave! 7″ he released himself in 2009. Still, the raunchy kid who never took himself seriously has grown into a surprisingly sophisticated musician on Salad Days.
The same charisma and charm that defined his previous Captured Tracks releases, Rock And Roll Night Club and 2 is back in full swing on Salad Days, if toned down to match the more mellow source material. Glam and psych influences can still be heard rollicking around in the background of more than one track, like the echoing outro to “Brother”, but much of the sonic landscape borrows from ’70s and ’80s rock and pop. Casually detuned guitars and smokey vocals don’t sound like DeMarco’s calling card, but it fits inside of his ever-expanding world of musical references. The outrageously retro synth chomps on “Passing Out Pieces”, too, are a new addition to DeMarco’s repertoire, but a strong one.
Unfortunately, a lot of what makes DeMarco’s output so interesting to absorb is lost in the sugar-coating of what is an excellently, if slightly uninterestingly, produced album. Salad Days loses a lot of the patently ridiculous persona that DeMarco has put so earnestly into his previous releases. In itself, it’s not a terrible loss, because the end result is a high-polish pop album that is more cohesive than any of his older work, and if the highest compliment DeMarco was looking for was “a damn good pop record”, he’s succeeded. The old, Stephen Malkmus-esque nihilism that kept the boy rocker enigmatic and full of surprises has been tamed, or just maybe Mac DeMarco, at 23, has finally grown up. Does Salad Days mean an end to his infamously debaucherous live performances? Probably not. That each release of DeMarco’s praises a different avenue of rock and roll’s history is a better example of the musician behind the guise than his half-baked smile, and hearing the multi-instrumentalist do his best Fleetwood Mac references is endearing, but there’s still a hint of the lonesome troublemaker beneath the surface on Salad Days.