The Canadian slacker takes a turn for the melancholy on his best album to date
With his second album ‘2’, Mac DeMarco established himself as a new breed of slacker-rock hero; a gap-toothed sweetheart with nothing but a song in his heart and, in one performance preserved for the ages on YouTube, a drumstick lodged where the sun don’t shine. Better yet, the Canadian funster was a great interview, cheerily regaling hacks who couldn’t believe their luck with tales of self-abuse, public nudity and selling one’s body for experimental science. But if ‘2’, with its wicked sense of humour and inventive songcraft, had the breeze-blown optimism of a guy who never knows which couch he’ll be surfing from one night to the next, ‘Salad Days’ finds that sprightly disposition tested to the full. It’s not quite tears of a clown, but nor is it the expected barrel of laughs either.
The first signs that all was not well with Mac came with terrific lead single ‘Passing Out Pieces’, a frosty, synth-led number, it finds our hero wondering if the merry-go-round of interviews and touring has taken its toll: “passing out pieces of me/don’t you know nothing comes free?”
It’s one of the darkest moments on the record, but not by much. The title track is a languid shrug of a tune with a hint of Ray Davies’ snark (“Always feeling tired/smiling when required”), while ‘Blue Boy’ finds Mac swatting at the rain cloud that’s following him around over signature woozy, lyrical guitar and funky bass (seriously, the bass lines are crazy good on this record).
But ‘Brother’ is where ‘Salad Days’ really clicks into gear, opening with a typically subversive bit of counsel (“You’re no better off living your life/Than dreaming at night”) before segueing into a protracted sigh of a chorus. Like The Beatles’ majestic ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, it’s a perfect song for those moments when the world seems half-crazed with aspiration, and the psychedelic outro is just sublime.
When Mac isn’t soul searching on ‘Salad Days’, he’s generally dishing out advice. ‘Let Her Go’ warns a friend not to commit to a relationship he’s unsure about before backing off in jokey fashion (like his heroes Jonathan Richman and Harry Nilsson, Mac excels with a well-timed bon mot — check the wilfully cringey “see you again soon, buh-bye!” sign-off at the end of the record). ‘Treat Her Better’ reproaches someone for failing to do right by his lady. And the typically woozy ‘Goodbye Weekend’ invites somebody sitting in judgment of his own behaviour to kindly jog on: “If you don’t like the things that go on in my life/Well, honey, that’s fine but just know that you’re wasting your time”.
More revealing moments still come when Mac takes a long, hard look in the mirror. ‘Let My Baby Stay’ — an acoustic ballad featuring Mac’s tender, yodelling falsetto — brings a confession that “Half of my life, I’ve been an addict”, while ‘Chamber Of Reflection’’s exquisitely chilly synthpop offers some of the record’s most mysterious and haunting lines: “Spend some time away/Getting ready for the day you’re born again/Spend some time alone/Understand that soon you’ll run with better men”.
In ‘Go Easy’ and the perky instrumental ‘Johnny’s Odyssey’, Mac closes out the record with a reminder that he’s unbowed by the weight of his worries. And therein lies ‘Salad Days’’ triumph. Sweet, soulful little man that he is, Mac knows better than to let his bellyaching get in the way of everyone else’s good time — instead, he’s simply dialled down the quirk and written his best record yet.