Of all the happy-go-lucky twenty-somethings in the world learning to deal with the anxiety of entering the first chapters of independent adulthood and being 100% responsible for one’s own actions, there are few you can picture less concerned than Mac DeMarco. If you’ve played witness to his erratic live antics amongst a crowd of voracious fans, or if you’ve listened to his laid back, reverberated indie rock grooves from comfort of your home stereo, Mac isn’t one you really see struggling to grasp the baffling mysteries of the universe. But behind that goofy, gap-toothed smile is a man underestimated by the hurried and conformist society around him. “As I’m getting older - chip upon my shoulder - rolling through life, just to roll over and die.” That’s how Mac starts his third LP Salad Days, with an unapologetically cynical outlook on life, with a rambling, whimsical guitar line buzzing underneath him. Out this week on Brooklyn-based indie and shoegaze label Captured Tracks, Salad Days gives us a snapshot of the inside of DeMarco’s brain at the most important and conflicted point of his career to date. And somewhere between the jokester, anything goes Mac of the past, and a seasoned songwriter jaded by his own craft, DeMarco gives us an album relatable by all facing the changing of seasons. Salad Days are over, but for DeMarco, that’s just the beginning.
Salad Days is a record with a fantastic story. Signing to Captured Tracks in 2012, Mac dropped Rock and Roll Nightclub and 2 in the same year. The first is a goofy collection of dive bar crooners that sees DeMarco make his more public debut in character as one-man taking on the magnificent, rock and roll dream, one family restaurant at a time. On the other hand, 2 is a delightful collection of more personable tracks where Mac repeatedly causes trouble then finds a way to convince his peers and elders that everything is just fine. This smirking charm was not lost on many - 2 caught on quickly, and before you knew it, DeMarco was touring around opening for Phoenix. With a fantastic band, a great batch of tunes, and a now infamous medley of eclectic rock songs (captured on the Live at Russian Recording tape for all interested), DeMarco watched his fanbase grow effortlessly, and only two LPs in, he was a rock star. With the spotlight brightness turned up higher than ever before, and with DeMarco himself tiring of the medleys and the expectation of whimsy, Mac saw fit to follow up 2 with a continuation of the thoughts started therein, mixed in with all that he has learned in his last year on the road. The result is Salad Days, a quirky, genre-bending indie rock record that sees Mac visiting old haunts with a sense of distance.
“Salad Days” and “Blue Boy” both see Mac at an impasse. The future looks dark and sinister any way you slice it. Even if the next album is loved far and wide, the one after that might be a disaster. No matter how hard you work towards something, there’s still more work to be done. The two opening tracks find DeMarco grappling with the incessant struggle of finding one’s place in the world over cool, catchy hooks. Later, Mac pushes off the advice temporarily on “Goodbye Weekend”. Warm guitar accompanies a command to relax. Things are just fine and worrying about it won’t make it any better. But even when he’s kicking the can down the road and living in the moment where he can, the thought doesn’t seem to dissipate from his mind.
There are plenty more spots where almost every twenty-something will be nodding their head in agreement. “You’re no better off living your life than dreaming at night”, DeMarco muses on “Brother”, telling a friend to try and think about things in the long term and not to get frustrated that his goals aren’t being fulfilled overnight. Responsibility and decision-making are themes carried further into the album on “Let Her Go” and “Treat Her Better”, both of which showcase an adult perspective of relationship a far cry from that seen on 2 and Rock and Roll Nightclub, and for that matter, 90% of pop music. In each of these, Mac highlights the value in taking possession of your life, assessing the situation for what it is, not letting opportunity slip away, and also not becoming a roadblock for those you love. The latter takes a lot of self-discipline and humility, but it seems that DeMarco is teaching by example. But every lesson ends with a spoonful of sugar. “Oh, you can keep her if you like”, Mac mumbles at the end of “Let Her Go”, “It’s up to you - make your own choice”. In his own way, Mac finds a way to round things out, like calling your friend out for being an asshole and then going to get a beer together afterwards.
But later in the record, insecurity and cold reality both combine to put some rainclouds over Mac’s easy going caravan. “Passing Out Pieces” is maybe the darkest track Mac has put forward yet in his career (it’s still not really all that dark), touching on themes of exhaustion, defeat, and regret. “What Mom don’t know has taken its toll on me. It’s all I’ve seen that can’t be wiped clean. It’s hard to believe what it’s made of me.” Mac admits that the secrets held and the stupid mistakes made have prevented him from being all that he wanted, idealistically, and he doesn’t really know how to reconcile that. It’s a fair puzzle - one that each and every one of us has to rectify. On the synth-heavy “Chamber of Reflection” and the bouncy “Go Easy”, DeMarco toys with the idea of escaping from it all, reinventing himself apart from all the watching eyes and expectations. But then he slowly realizes that his basic human need for affection, the one he details so wonderfully on “Let My Baby Stay”, will set him back to square one. He decides that its better to tackle the feeling at the source and face the future head on with his love at his side, hoping that he gets a little mercy from the powers that be every once in a while. Don’t worry Mac, we all want it easy, too.
Salad Days couldn’t end any more appropriately. After all the dizzying life questions and unsolicited advice fade, “Jonny’s Odyssey” fades in with a Fleetwood Mac-style folk groove. For half a minute or so, it sounds like the tune could turn quite melancholy and be a real heartbreaker. But out of nowhere, a psychedelic organ busts into the mix and the mood switches to an easy day trip in a swirling sea of beauty. The melancholy returns just once more before the organ comes in again and trips us out to oblivion. The instrumental doesn’t last long, but the message is heard as plain as can be. Life is hard for everyone, and wherever you are, there are decisions to be made and risks to take and falls to get back up from. But if you remember to love the friends and lovers at your side and try to amass the bravery it takes to chase your dreams, everything will be just fine.
The days of adolescence don’t last forever, and on LP #3, DeMarco is embracing the future with more than a little hesitation. But in his own unique way, Mac DeMarco helps us remember that time and time again, the kids pull through, however unorthodox their methods may be. Salad Days is out this week on Captured Tracks. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Mac was set to play at Sasquatch! weekend 2 over the fourth of July, but with that cancelled, keep your eye out for a new Seattle date around the same time, as our geographical location between Vancouver and San Francisco has not changed.