For a guy who writes low-key guitar-pop tunes, Mac DeMarco sure is polarizing. Detractors tend to regard him as some kind of bullshit artist, a quintessential hipster doofus slumming it under the ironic guise of a hippie dirtbag who gleefully covers Limp Bizkit songs in concert. (That Alfred E. Neuman smirk of his doesn’t help matters.) But what those people miss is what many people missed about two of DeMarco’s favorite artists and aesthetic antecedents, Jonathan Richman and Harry Nilsson. Like those iconic, pranksterish singer-songwriters, DeMarco does not recognize “serious” and “trivial” as binary opposites. Rather, he uses humor and bemused detachment to hint at a deeper pathos he can’t (or won’t) articulate in his oft-beautiful, always slippery songs.
DeMarco’s third album, Salad Days, is positioned as his “mature” record, the latest in a recent run of indie-rock releases (starting unofficially with Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City and running up through Real Estate’s Atlas) about 20-somethings grappling with the inevitability of death as a tangible, adult concern. In reality, DeMarco has fashioned Salad Days into both a finely-crafted example of this trope, and a sly parody of it. Whenever DeMarco threatens to get a little too chin-stroke-y about the existential void that awaits all of humanity, he undercuts himself with a quip. For instance, on the title track, DeMarco whines about “acting like my life is already over.” Then he recalls the sage words of his mother: “Act your age and try another year.”
Elsewhere, DeMarco returns to his totally chillaxin’ persona on songs like the luminous “Brother,” telling a friend to “take it slooowly, brother” in a stoned drawl. But Salad Days isn’t merely a compendium of McConaugheyisms: On “Goodbye Weekend,” DeMarco shows the asshole lurking inside every good-time bro. “If you don’t agree with the things that go on within my life/ well honey that’s fine/ just know that you’re wasting your time,” he sings, though the way DeMarco’s squeaky guitar floats over the off-kilter rhythm section hint at the narrator’s lack of self-control. DeMarco might still appear to be grinning broadly on Salad Days, but upon closer examination it’s more like a wince.