It’s not very surprising that Mac DeMarco, being the gap-toothed goofball that he is, would release his latest album on April Fool’s Day. Salad Days, DeMarco’s sophomore effort, embodies the meaning of the “holiday” — almost nostalgic in nature, the record showcases his talent in a more grown-up light than his carefree and mischievous debut album, 2.
So evolved is this album’s sound that it’s a mystery how DeMarco crafted Salad Days, an amalgamation of stoner-slacker-psychedelic rock, in his dingy Brooklyn apartment by recording each instrument on his own and recruiting friends as his backing band for tours.
DeMarco released Salad Days under New York label Captured Tracks, where his labelmates include DIIV, Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils. Oddly enough, the native Canadian doesn’t seem very cut out for work with record labels — the far-from-perfectionist work ethic and lazy slacker lifestyle manifested in his music isn’t normally thought of as conducive to musical success. Despite this incongruity, however, DeMarco went on to tour with famous French band Phoenix in 2013, boosting his popularity. DeMarco has carved out a niche for himself as one of the biggest names in indie rock, a poster boy of unlikely circumstances.
Over a span of just a few years, DeMarco has garnered an impressive cult following in the indie rock scene, especially by way of his outrageous onstage antics at live shows. An unabashed spirit prone to the occasional bout of public indecency, DeMarco has obviously been coming to grips with his overeager fans’ expectations of him, demanding he do something crazy during his performances. The song “Passing out the Pieces” addresses this issue in particular, as it makes his personal life public. DeMarco comes off as jaded when he sings, “I’m passing out pieces of me / Don’t you know nothing comes free?”
Another aspect of DeMarco’s life that has been unwillingly publicized is his relationship with girlfriend Kiera “Kiki” McNally. She is the subject of the track “Let My Baby Stay,” a slow, acoustic love song that serves as the album’s halfway marker as well as a much-needed tempo shift, paralleling a similar track on his last album, Still Together. In the song, he touches on Kiera’s immigrant status in the United States as a fellow Canadian and the government’s alleged attempts to deport her, imploring them to “let [his] baby stay.” Or, it might be a fabricated tale on DeMarco’s part in order to add to his growing mystique; either way, it’s definitely working.
Just as in his love ballad, DeMarco self-references his own pet name “Macky” on the track “Goodbye Weekend,” the most evocative of his work of all the tracks on Salad Days, with a guitar solo that could fit right into 2. In the song, he addresses critics of his life choices and eccentric mien, warning, “Don’t go telling me how this boy should be leading his own life / Sometimes rough, but generally speaking I’m fine.”
The title track, “Salad Days,” echoes the same sentiment of sad nostalgia overarching the whole album, opening with the lyrics, “As I’m getting older, chip up on my shoulder / Rolling through life, to roll over and die.” Despite the song’s cheerful, sunny melody the song’s melody, DeMarco’s lyrics reveal an underlying existential struggle with losing one’s youth, as he sings, “Oh mama / actin’ like my life’s already over / Oh dear / act your age and try another year.” The following track, “Blue Boy,” is no different — ordering his inner child to face reality, DeMarco sings, “No use acting so tough / Come down, sweetheart, grow up.”
Salad Days sees the novel use of the synthesizer in DeMarco’s arsenal of instruments in addition to the bright and highly-reverbed guitars previously heard on 2. Synths feature prominently on the track “Chamber of Reflection,” a funky bobbing bassline weaves throughout the song, reminiscent of 80s jazzercise techno with a lo-fi aesthetic, or even a gleaning of “chillwave” sounds from musical contemporaries like Toro y Moi or Washed Out.
Despite the successful effort to refine and mature his sound, it’s obvious that DeMarco retained his cheeky persona on Salad Days. At the same time, he stays true to 2 by reusing his shabby guitars and jerry-rigged effects pedals that give him his signature laid-back sound. Between songs, he can be heard muttering random notes out of context. At the end of the instrumental closing track, “Johnny’s Odyssey,” DeMarco leaves a heartfelt gem of a parting statement: “Hi guys, this is Mac, thank you for joining me, see you again soon, bye-bye.”
One thing is for sure: Mac DeMarco’s salad days aren’t quite gone yet.