Mac DeMarco rightfully earned his title as indie rock’s class clown with his first two albums. However, for his latest outing, Salad Days, he pumps the brakes on the shenanigans, despite previewing the album with a fake song titled, “A Little Bit of Pussy”. That one-off video, uploaded to DeMarco’s YouTube channel a few months ago, piqued the interest of his growing army of fans but didn’t do much to sway those who weren’t already drawn in by his usual antics. “Pussy” came with a promise, though, namely that things would be darker and more serious this time around. While “darker” for DeMarco seems like a chipper record for anyone else, there’s a maturity evident in both music and lyrics. He pledged to stop writing songs about “absolutely nothing,” effectively ending his run as indie rock Seinfeld, and instead turned his focus inward and onto things he loved.
On 2, “Still Together” is the only song clearly dedicated to DeMarco’s longtime girlfriend, while other tracks like “Cooking Up Something Good” and “Annie” have no discernible message. But Salad Days finds him singing to Kiki on three separate occasions: “Let Her Go”, “Treat Her Better”, and “Let My Baby Stay”, the latter of which is also dedicated to the people who might try to get in the way of the couple’s international love. (Kiera “Kiki” McNally is still a citizen of Canada and was an illegal immigrant at the time of the album’s recording. Her visa has since been extended, good news for them as well as his fans who owe her a debt for bringing out the best in the slovenly rocker.) “Let My Baby Stay” is the most restrained song on the record, finding DeMarco fessing up to his own mistakes while pleading with the forces that be to let him hold on to the one thing that keeps him grounded. The tempo and mood of the track fit with the message; an impassioned plea to someone who holds the fate of your love should be measured and calm, and DeMarco plays the part of the desperate, loving beau all to well.
Despite the album’s exhibited growth, a few of DeMarco’s old tricks remain. His ability to take what would normally be an ugly guitar riff and turn it into something vivid has always been intriguing, as if someone figured out the chords as they went along. He abandoned that strategy on 2, only to revisit the incongruent plucks from Rock and Roll Night Club track “She’s Really All I Need” for songs like “Goodbye Weekend” and “Salad Days”. The descending scale on the titular track is pleasing after a few bars, even if it’s rather dissonant upon first listen. The same goes for “Goodbye Weekend”, which starts off sounding like someone’s tuning their guitar until the chorus fleshes things out into a more aesthetically palatable blend. Recording the entire album in his cigarette smoke-filled Brooklyn apartment, DeMarco played every instrument himself, and this strategic mess proves satisfying.
In a recent interview, DeMarco confessed that he and his bandmates were tired of their live act after a year and a half of non-stop touring. Such fatigue is evident on this record. It’s a half-baked portrait of a creative personality rung dry and yet still yearning for something new. It’s rare to see an identity crisis like this so early in the career of a promising artist, but DeMarco doesn’t spend time wallowing. Instead, he crafted a companion piece to his previous works, fleshing out a fuller image of an artist “struggling” to find his place in the landscape of indie rock. With regards to his self-labeled “jizz jazz” genre, consider this his magnum opus.
Essential Tracks: “Blue Boy”, “Treat Her Better”, and “Johnny’s Odyssey”