DeMarco is Ferris Bueller with a guitar, basically.
Who the hell is Mac DeMarco? A good question, and even if you picked up his debut 12-inch, last year’s ‘Rock And Roll Night Club’, it’s possible you’ll still be none the wiser. The cover sported a picture of this 22-year-old Montrealer carefully applying a thick smooch of lipstick, and the contents – a collection of weird, woozy lo-fi songs sung in a playful glam-meets-’50s rock’n’roll vein – were recorded primitively, then slowed down a little, giving DeMarco the voice of an inebriated Elvis impersonator. It was sweet and amusing, its enjoyment increased slightly by the sense that DeMarco might have been sitting somewhere cackling that anyone in the world might take such a ridiculous art prank seriously.
A year or so later, DeMarco returns with ‘2’. This time we get a better glimpse of him. Suburban, slacker, bratty but charming bratty… Ferris Bueller with a guitar, basically. On the opening ‘Cooking Up Something Good’, we get a little glimpse of his home life: Mom slaving over a hot stove, brother out skateboarding, DeMarco in his bedroom way past midnight, chewing on nicotine gum. “Oh, life moves this slowly“, he choruses, lazily. “Just try and let it go…“.
What ‘2’ makes clear, quickly, is that DeMarco is a skilful songwriter. Lyrically witty, full of neat turns of phrase, his songs recall the quirks and kinks of Jonathan Richman, the tale-telling and wit of Alex Turner (specifically the Arctics man’s gentle, romantic work on the Submarine soundtrack), and the playful verbosity of Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus – who else, after all, could get away with a song called ‘Ode To Viceroy’?
All this is neatly balanced by an instinct to not overstate anything that works just as well understated. ‘Freaking Out The Neighborhood’ is a languid apology to Mom (“It’s no fun/When your first son/Gets up to no good“) for some untold act of youthful misadventure, while ‘The Stars Keep On Calling My Name’ finds Mac inviting a girl to skip town with him, while having no particular destination in mind.
But let’s not understate things ourselves. Mac is a great guitarist, deft and spare, with all manner of little calypso flourishes, and the ear to bash up the song a bit if that’s what’s called for. ‘Robson Girl’ comes off just a little too sweet at first, so at the bridge he grabs hold of the tremolo arm and shreds the hell out. And there’s a gorgeous closing song in the shape of ‘Still Together’. On it Mac unveils something he’s kept hidden throughout: a strong falsetto with not a crack, not a flaw. With it, he serenades his beloved, even rhymes “love” with “a glove” and “up above”, and still pulls it off. The real Mac DeMarco? Doesn’t really matter. So long as he keeps singing these sweet words, you’ll want to hold him close.