Though I normally hate making any kind of generational generalization, I’ve decided that there’s enough convincing evidence to support the proposition that growing up in the ’60s, ’70s or any pre-internet decade was roughly 350 percent more chill than a modern-day adolescent existence. So while I sit here gripped by a multi-faceted, incessant anxiety that undeniably stems in part from the thinly stretched branches of my cyber soul, my 51-year-old father chooses to spend his time deliberating on how rock ‘n’ roll used to mean something, damnit, while reminiscing about his youth in an era of hazy freedom and analog simplicity.
All grandiosities aside, I do believe (and stubbornly argue with my dad) that compelling rock music still exists today in one form or another. Therefore, at a time when most modern creative efforts seem to speak mostly in self-righteous pleas for recognition, the work of someone like Canadian singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco really feels like a refreshing, pleasant detachment from the cultural plague that is LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME-ness.
Continuing the shimmering guitar frenzy that was his 2012 album, 2, DeMarco’s latest LP, Salad Days, finds the 23-year-old artist falling back on his established, carefree ways while also striving for a more mature, patient approach to songwriting and greater instrumental variety.
So what is a Salad Day exactly? DeMarco would like you to consider it — following the narrative of the album’s title track (“Oh mama, actin’ like my life’s already over / Oh dear, act your age and try another year”) — as that crucial moment in which a young person recognizes that his or her life is beginning to pass too quickly and either self-corrects to avoid despair or stays steadfastly stuck in the swift throes of melancholy.
As a whole, though, Salad Days leans more toward gloom than optimism. Even tracks like the seemingly amiable “Blue Boy” are conducted with a certain sarcastic slant. In many ways, DeMarco and his goofy, Viceroy-smoking, cross-dressing public persona provide an apparent heir to the vocal styling and cynical, eccentric rock presence of the late Lou Reed. Strip away DeMarco’s real-life madness and assess his studio presence and lyricism alone, however, and one finds that he’s not nearly as controversial as he is glaringly Canadian — morally agreeable, notably concerned with the well-being of his loved ones, shockingly twee in his delivery.
No track on Salad Days holds the infectious funk of 2’s “Freaking Out the Neighborhood” or “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name,” but DeMarco does manage to incorporate new sounds on the record to an intriguing effect. Simple, sweet synth patterns add a new wrinkle to tracks such as lead single “Passing Out Pieces” and standout “Chamber of Reflection” — a hypnotic track that recalls the captivating electronica of Deerhunter’s 2010 classic, Halcyon Digest.
Per usual, most songs on DeMarco’s Salad Days end briskly around the three minute mark, and the record flows quickly and succinctly as a traditional pop album, for the most part. “Brother,” another exceptional track, takes the gleaming guitar chords of 2 and slows things down to a sultry groove. All pacing falls through two tracks later, though, with the dreadfully boring “Let My Baby Stay,” in which DeMarco floats cutesy lyrics alongside an unbearably repetitious acoustic guitar without ever reaching any semblance of crescendo or memorable chorus.
On the surface, Salad Days is a very straightforward record — simple, direct, efficiently accessible. In an era where any important work of art has essentially the same quantifiable, societal importance as a picture of some hot chick baring cleavage on Instagram, it makes sense that artists are starting to make their work more minimalist and pop-like in nature, perhaps recognizing and accepting the inevitable ephemerality of their work. Mac DeMarco might be too much of a goofball spaz to sit down and put together a complex, artistic masterpiece, but who really needs Art when you can learn to take it sloooowly brotha and chill out as life’s troubles simply drift on by.