Nevermind Mac DeMarco’s gross-out stage antics or his “slacker” persona, the Montreal native’s second full-length, Salad Days, is excellent. Excellent in that it sounds like it doesn’t know how great it is. That unassuming stance leads us back to its maker, though, which makes me doubt if it’s actually possible to separate the art from the artist in this case. Salad Days is trademark DeMarco in its slippery 70s guitar stylings and mega mellow vocals, but the gimmicks have all but disappeared and been replaced with the sense of a 23-year-old very reluctantly grappling with reality.
Touring almost constantly for the majority of the year following his 2012 debut, 2, DeMarco got burnt out and missed his girlfriend (yes, the same one he touted on his shoulders at Pitchfork Fest) which led to the recording of Salad Days, which will inevitably further the cycle leading to another lengthy tour and more of missing his girlfriend. “What mama don’t know has taken it’s toll on me/It’s all I see/It can’t be wiped clean/It’s hard to believe what it’s made of me,” he gloomily sings of his experiences on “Pieces of Me”. But when he’s not singing about the road or his girlfriend, he’s giving life and/or love advice on songs like “Treat Her Better” and “Let Her Go”: “Tell her that you love her, if you really love her/But if your heart just ain’t sure, let her know/Growing by the hour, love just like a flower/But when the flower dies, you’ve got to say goodbye/Let her go.” It’s simple advice, but simple suits a guy like DeMarco who says exactly what he means. On “Brother”, he encourages his subject to “take it slowly, brother/let it go now, brother”, expressing his disgust at their becoming just another 9-5er.
The content is clearly more mature than previous work, a concern of his which he expressed in a recent Pitchfork interview (that you should totally read): “I feel sort of weathered and beat down and grown up all of a sudden. I’ve always had some kind of plateau that I wanted to reach, and now I just can’t see the next one…But I need to get this shit out, you know?” The fear of losing fans for his honesty shouldn’t be an issue though, since his cult following is mainly due to DeMarco’s consistently brash authenticity, which is clearly intact. He’s still a drooling goofball, just a bit more sober this time around thanks to our good pal, Life. “It’s sometimes rough, but generally speaking I’m fine,” he assures us on “Goodbye Weekend”.
The subject material might be a changeup, but the sonic material remains greatly unaltered. Lazily brilliant melodies splay and slide woozily throughout the album, his Kurt Vile-meets-John Lennon vibe greeting us with a warm gap-toothed grin. It’s a laid-back sound, sometimes intentionally kitschy (gratuitously so in past work) and always refreshingly unpretentious. And as much as he gives off an “I could care less” vibe, his sheer capability is undeniable. DeMarco recorded Salad Days himself in his tiny, shared Brooklyn bedroom, his chain-smoking literally seeping into the tape and warping the sound at times, much to his delight of course.
The reflective nature of Salad Days reaches its peak in the late-night synthy “Chamber of Reflection”, which DeMarco explained was inspired by an actual Freemasonry tradition. “It’s like a meditation room, and they lock you in there for a period of time. The purpose is to reflect on what you’ve done in your life already and move on from it. I think that’s what I did in this chamber of reflection right here.” The closing track on the romantic, road-wearied Salad Days is a pensive instrumental with a playful guitar pop centerpiece, and that totally makes sense.