“What Mom doesn’t know/ has taken its toll on me” sings Mac DeMarco on album number three’s lead single, ‘Passing Out the Pieces’. It’s a line that immediately anchors the listener in with what to expect from the rest of his critically praised, self-produced 2014 release, Salad Days. Remarkably the title of the album itself would be far more in line with the Mac (real name: Vernor Winfield McBriare Smith IV) of 2012; the Mac who gained a semi-cult following with some hilarious post-watershed Youtube clips and an anthemic ode to his favourite cigarettes, Viceroy. However in true Mac style it’s misleading, given that in album opener and namesake ‘Salad Days’ he refrains that those days of reckless abandon are now behind him. No doubt he’s still the gap-toothed, loveable prankster of alternative music but he’s now giving the fans something deeper – proof that there is no fool underneath the jester up on stage.
DeMarco has always seemed like an act who was constantly giving us less than he knew he was capable of. His recordings are minimal, half-ready productions that many bands wouldn’t pass as demos despite his strong multi-instrumentation and songwriting credits on all releases. Furthermore, go to a gig and you’ll witness a Mac-fronted band whose musicianship instantly stands out over all their peers, even though they appear to not know it themselves – legend has it Mac’s guitar cost him $30 in 2009. It’s this contradiction that’s always made Mac’s evolution from his budget psychedelic video project Makeout Videotape to present-day Mac – never once being boring nor predictable. In 2014 he has the ways and means to be taken seriously, but you’re never completely sure if he wants to or not. And it’s here we can garner an appreciative understanding of Salad Days.
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Going back to ‘Passing Out the Pieces’, lyrically we hear a Mac who has survived the hype machine and all the warts that come with it. The alt-celebrity profile birthed from his 2012 media portrayal spawned a wealth of dedicated Tumblr threads, A-grade guestlists and kinships with many other buzz bands. Whilst many acts in the same circles would rate that lifestyle as solid success DeMarco remains staunchly unimpressed. “Can’t claim to care/ never been reluctant to share” gives a perfect narrative of how baffled he is at the spike in his popularity post-Viceroy. ‘Blue Boy’ follows the same trademark Mac sound of eight-track production with a narrative of poking fun at someone taking themselves too seriously, likely one of the many acts Mac has encountered over the previous two years. Standout track ‘Chamber of Reflection’ heralds the perks of solidarity so sincerely you can’t help but feel it was penned on a relentless tour with no end in sight. It’s with ‘Chamber’ we also hear the full-on use of synthesizers in a Mac track for the first time – no trademark $30 guitar in sight. It’s an intensely interesting track that shows how capable he is as a one man, self-producing machine as constant intertwining moogs, basslines and reverberated drum loops culminate in his most accomplished work to date. Even more interesting is that his label Capture Records have it lined up as a single.
Those already familiar with his sound will find the escalation of studio tools and synths exhilarating as much as the new weary-eyed Mac enlightening. However one must always appreciate how subjective an argument it can be to pigeonhole Mac’s sound in the first place – in the past it’s been coined everything from “blue wave” to “jizz jazz” and Salad Days only adds to the Mac DeMarco genre tag adventure. Enough to rubbish any theory of Mac being a novelty act, enough to push him up a few slots on the 2014 festival bills and most importantly – enough for fans to get excited over the possibilities of where he’ll go next. Peter Devine
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