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Mac DeMarco is the Slacker With a Heart of Gold on the Endearing ‘Salad Days’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: April 01, 2014
Label: Captured Tracks

In American Hustle, when Jennifer Lawrence’s character goes on and on about “that perfume you can’t stop smelling even when there’s something sour in it,” she could be describing the music of Mac DeMarco: breezy jangle-pop that might otherwise drift into the background were it not for an out-of-place chord or an organ bulldozing its way through an intro. Such sonic pratfalls are consistent with DeMarco’s slightly off character, which runs counter to that of your ordinary indie rock dude. He’s got that cult of personality thing so rarely seen among his peers, top-button types whose songs are evaluated based on how well they’d soundtrack a trip to the beach. That’s not DeMarco, whose records are as lovable as his goofy, obnoxious brand — though not, crucially, because they themselves are goofy and obnoxious.

If you knew of the 23-year-old Canadian — if you’d seen his cross-dressing video for “My Kind of Woman” or were aware of Tyler, the Creator’s admiration for him — but had not actually heard his music, you wouldn’t take him for someone capable of penning love songs worthy of their own ridiculous genre term — call it “Bushwick schmaltz.” He gave us a preview of his tender acoustic crooner persona on 2012’s 2, but here he drops the frivolity of, say, an ode to his favorite brand of cigarettes, and really commits to romance. His girlfriend should be as proud as he is, particularly on the legitimately heartwarming “Let My Baby Stay.” The woodblock-and-acoustic track falls somewhere between a lounge act and Serge Gainsbourg, but its chintzy vibe is redeemed when DeMarco spits, “Half of my life/ I’ve been an addict.” Likewise, “Goodbye Weekend” pulls the neat trick of merging DeMarco’s slacker sound (bum notes sound out like gray hairs on an otherwise stunning brunette) with this tasty kiss-off: “If you don’t agree with the things that go on in my life/ Well honey that’s fine, just know that you’re wasting your time.”

“Treat Her Better,” “Blue Boy,” “Let Her Go,” the aforementioned “Let My Baby Stay” — even the song titles sound hoary, like a girl-group album from 1963. It’s all part of DeMarco’s bait-and-switch, his earnestness peeking through the shtick as though he’s never liked something ironically in his life. His patron saints appear to be Harry Nilsson and yacht rockers like 10cc, and rarely are either channeled with this little cheese and this much panache. He merges these influences with what’s quickly become his signature guitar sound, an effortless style that can be playfully discordant. It’s these dissonant bits that elevate DeMarco’s easily digestible pop, the reason his single “Passing Out Pieces” will be one of the most memorable moments in indie rock this year. “Sweet and sour, rotten and delicious, flowers but with garbage,” taunts Lawrence in her Oscar clip. “He always comes back for it.”