Rating: ★★★★½ 

Born Vernor Winfield McBriare Smith IV, it’s easy to see why Canadian singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco has eschewed his birth name in favour of something far more in keeping with the singer’s slacker image. It’s difficult these days to find mention of DeMarco’s name without the S-word being banded about so readily, thanks in no small part to his 2012 debut ‘2’. Now it seems however, that DeMarco is keen not to shake off any of the slacker ambivalence of his debut, but to build on it, bringing to the fore the luscious melodies of ’60s pop and interspersing it with moments of lite-psychedelia and the college rock of more contemporary acts such as Beulah.

In short, it seems DeMarco has matured somewhat in the two years between records, something which can probably be attributed to the incessant touring experienced by he and his band-mates off the back of ‘2’. With such a rigorous touring schedule undoubtedly taking its toll on all those involved, the frivolousness of both 2 and ‘Rock and Roll Nightclub’ (the EP that precedes it) have been replaced with lyricism that, by DeMarco’s standards at least, verges on the poignant, no less than three tracks directed towards his long-time girlfriend and as such Salad Days feels like a much richer listening experience than its predecessor.

Indeed, it’s this almost-poignancy that marks this a definite step in the right direction for someone who was/is considered the poster-boy for stoner chic and Let My Baby Stay is a prime example of this. Penned as an ode to ‘Kiki’, the aforementioned girlfriend, the track address the couple’s problems with immigration, whilst allowing DeMarco to hold his hands up in admission of past transgressions.

Chamber of Reflection, one of the stand-out tracks on ‘Salad Days’, sees the record moving beyond the self-proclaimed ‘jizz-jazz’ of other tracks, and veer in to almost psychedelic lounge music territory. A steady, effortless bass-line works in tandem with a perpetual synth to form the backbone of the track, whilst off-kilter keys and DeMarco’s lyrics evoke a desolate atmosphere and an almost-tangible sense of longing. Before things get too heavy however, the mood picks up again with final two tracks Go Easy and the instrumental Johnny’s Odyssey, both of which proving that though Mac DeMarco might have matured, there’s an idiosyncratic whimsy in his musicianship that he won’t ever be able to ignore.

‘Salad Days’ is a record that feels torn between two places. On the hand DeMarco is still young; he’s yet to find his feet. On the other, he’s world-weary, and the rigours of 18 months of touring have taken their toll. Paradoxically however, it’s this duality, coupled with a new found sense of direction in his lyricism, which makes it his strongest yet. And rather than feel fragmented, as a lesser record might, it feels completed by it. And who knows, if his next record builds on this one the same way this built on ‘2’, then Mac DeMarco might even begin to be able to shake the S-word that’s been dogging him for so long.

Dave Beech

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