Monday, April 14, 2014

Mac DeMarco - Salad Days Review

It's hard to hate a lovable loser. Buckteeth with a gap that stretches as far as the enigmatic singer's personality, Mac DeMarco is Indie Rock's professional goofball. Known for his ‘no care in the world’ surfer personality despite reigning from the polar opposite in British Columbia, Canada, DeMarco has amassed a cult following over the past two years thanks in small part to his attitude about life, and in large part to his easy-listening, down-to-earth wave rock that functions largely around his guitar and vocals as a means to sooth the listener into his charismatically joyous ways. Fans have clamored to see him live to witness this behavior characterized on stage, only to be greeted with crude jokes, nudity, and raunchy behavior, further lending itself to DeMarco’s legacy of entertaining. But behind that mask and hippy stance lies a man, at age 23, still unsure of his future life choices, as evidenced by his various interviews showing a side of Mac who already wants leisure and feels his best days are behind him. Those days being the Salad Days. These same sentiments he feels are echoed on the album’s title track where DeMarco exclaims “Oh mama, actin’ like my life’s already over, Oh dear, act your age and try another year,” surrounding itself with a flurry of other horribly depressing lyrics about aging in a world not meant for you. And yet, wrapped up with a cherry on top, is Mac, smiling “when required,” playing his wistful tunes to his fans’ content.

 Salad Days opens on this gloomy note, but one would be remiss without initially knocking it as a cheerful song. His upbeat vocals, mixed with wails of “la la,” aligned with his plucking guitar riffs set the tone for the album’s sound. The cadence in his voice is immediately appealing here, like a college kid who amasses a crowd descending to his vocal harmonies at a party. Using his alluring voice DeMarco is willfully able steal the attention of anyone with an ear in range, thus allowing his opinion to be heard loud and clear. Unfortunately, through the majority of Salad Days, that opinion doesn’t really have much to say. Typical lyrical content abound, DeMarco regurgitates tried and true stories of love in the way of relationships, deviating slightly from the norm to discuss lost youth and fleeting time. No topic found anywhere on the 11 songs surprises the listener, intrigues them, or presents an interest fold in the dynamic DeMarco already laid forth on his previous album, 2. This can all be lent to his care-free attitude, but nothing defines an artist stronger than his inability to grow and learn. Granted DeMarco is still a young 20 something stuck with an even younger personality with a lot of exploring to do, but as of right now, replicating previous works to appease an audience falls low on the totem pole for long-lasting enjoyment. 

See Kanye West or Arcade Fire to witness growth in persona, sound, and skill. That’s something I don’t see in the young artist. While his sound certainly isn’t bad by any definition, nothing repeated multiple times maintains a fresh air, and eventually lead to staleness. In fact, Salad Days itself, despite only clocking in at 35 minutes, loses its relative charm exacerbated by the title track multiple times throughout its stay. As someone who appreciates diversity in sound throughout a piece, Mac’s repetitive style wears on the listener as time passes, only picking up on the fantastic Passing Out Pieces, which coincidently enough, features blaring synths acting as trumpets to accompany Mac while he tells his life story, er, says he has a life story but never delves into it. The following track Treat Her Better, despite its standard lyrical substance, picks up the pace just so subtly enough for it to stand out amongst the pack before the album dwindles back to its original place as lackluster, slacker rock. 

With an ear for instrumental fine-tuning Mac does regain some of my trust when it comes to sounds. Being known for one, $30 guitar and a backing drummer, Mac does what he knows well. It’s pedestrian, natural, and wholesome, but in some cases, knowing what works well together at often times is all that needs to be done. His lack of imagination or exploration derail the project from becoming something more than the short-lived album it’ll be known as. In fact, despite my enjoyment of Mac’s singing voice, the finale, Jonny’s Odyssey, being entirely instrumental, may be my favorite. It showcases Mac’s inbred guitarist qualities through sheer simplicity that echo sounds of enjoyment. With this sound, entirely reminiscent of a nostalgic trip back to the surfing beaches of California, DeMarco constructs an interesting paradigm. How can a singer based out of the Bronx, born in Canada, learn the sounds of happiness through warmth? It leads me to believe that Mac himself projects his own thoughts of happiness into his music as a form of escapement to the harsh weather, that lends itself to darker sounds, around him.

Salad Days is an enjoyable listen, and I don’t aim to discourage anyone from relishing in it for the 32-minute duration. But aiming to the future, analyzing the piece for its longevity, provides some problems. Mainly, its lack of innovation will run stale even on his most diehard fans. Mac’s music is novelty; at its most useful when being cherished on long car rides with friends on a warm, summer day, or when one is feeling particularly cheerful as they parade around the house. And that’s exactly what Mac likened his music towards, choosing to stagnate his albums for an audience seeking specificity. However, Salad Days fails at achieving a mainstay thanks in large part to Mac’s insanely self-realized, nonchalant, ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude. Only so many stimulating harmonies and catchy guitar melodies can carry a singer far enough to encourage foundation amongst a listener’s catalogue.

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