“As I’m getting older, chip over my shoulder, rolling through life to roll over and die.”
Though at face value these morbid lyrics might typically come hurriedly from the lips of a musical sourpuss such as Morrissey, the breezy and unfazed manner in which they are delivered, accompanied by blissful scat singing, instead assures us that our favourite Canadian slacker has, in fact, grown up. Or, at least, maturity is in the works.
Yes, the Mac Attack is back, pushing the slacker rock envelope with restraint but nevertheless with enthusiasm. In his third solo outing following 2012’s ‘2’, here DeMarco slides comfortably into a disciplined use of synths that create a more dazed and ethereal ambience amid his signature dreamy, indie rock nest of languid optimism.
Although from the onset Mac’s lyrics have clearly developed, the first compelling appearance of this new-found gravitas is on Track 3, ‘Brother’. Mac’s velvety croon and soaring surf guitar placate the ears whilst he insists for us or himself to ‘Take it slowly, brother…go home’, drawing stark contrast to the primal idealism of 2, particularly ‘Freaking out the Neighbourhood’ which reflected his penchant for unbridled hedonism (usually expressed at gigs by gracefully inserting drumsticks up his anus). Also inviting comparison with his previous album is the last track on Side 1, ‘Let My Baby Stay’, which feels like a sequel to 2’s album closer ‘Still Together’, with both songs sharing the same stripped back, gleaming acoustic guitars. However, whilst ‘Together’ was dripping with romantic naiveté, ‘Let My Baby Stay’ aches with a pleading uncertainty and melancholy that infuses Salad Days.
For fans like Mac, belligerently clinging to his $5 junkyard guitar which he refuses to trade in for a Fender, those all too enamoured with the ramshackle vibe of 2 will find comfort in that sonically Salad Days acts as more of a companion piece to his previous album, albeit with a cleaner and more robust feel to it. The warm, jangling chirp of Mac’s guitar playing saturates the album’s succinct length which clocks in at just under 35 minutes, as if to remind his familiars that though the lyrical themes of ‘Salad Days’ may have matured, the lazy gapped-tooth kook is as fresh as ever with the same idle free spirit.
In terms of structure, Salad Days has a looser arrangement than its predecessor, with the bigger thematic numbers being rather sparse and intercut with the casual hooks and smoothness of the album’s lighter tunes. The real crux of the album surfaces on the first track of Side 2 with the thunderous lo-fi drone and shambling synths of ‘Passing Out The Pieces’, the album’s first single, and near enough concludes with track 10, ‘Chamber of Reflection’. Beginning with a low-key drum beat and muffled bass line, the song bursts into silvery synthesizer paradise glued together by the cathedral-like organ playing. The last real note of Salad Day’s venture into the philosophical is seen through the eyes of what feels like a stoned bystander standing in the centre of a slick and vacuous disco, reflecting on his overbearing alienation and insecurity with a meditative lilt that, which perhaps is the most pleasant surprise of Salad Days, evokes Stevie Wonder. These stand-out moments are perhaps outnumbered by the more typical jangle pop tracks, but their impact is in no way diminished as a result, and in fact causes the following to tracks to somewhat meander to a conclusion. The last track, ‘Johnny’s Odyssey’, is really a half-song that sounds more like a baked Vampire Weekend number until the synthesizers show up to playfully manipulate the spotless tuning of his guitar.
If we’re searching for the album’s disappointing qualities, then I can look no further than the lack of accuracy in the title itself. The phrase ‘Salad Days’, according to Wikipedia at least, suggests a youthful time marked by inexperience and idealism or refers to someone’s heyday when said person is at the peak of their abilities. Judging by the album’s soothing fluency and carefree Marr-esque jangle, Mac’s salad days are not over just yet, and that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.
Perhaps a celebratory bum drumstick is in order?