If you had a chance to swing by Our Wicked Lady in the hours before their grand opening then maybe you found the loopy singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco throwin down dogs whilst a couple of his new tracks bumped on the boom box. Or perhaps you were stuck behind double-paned office windows, miles from anything resembling summer or fun, let alone new music. Stir not in jealousy, though, for the release of 25-year-old Rockaway resident Mac Demarco’s new “mini-LP” is just on the horizon.
Come August 7, you can grab Another One (from Greenpoint-based label Captured Tracks) probably at any old record store around these parts. His people are implying that he’s “outgrowing any sort of slacker stigma” but we can’t help but think that’s the opposite of true. DeMarco, a dude with a fondness for posting #ironic dick jokes on social media, making out with MTV dweebs, and posing in American Apparel leotards, among other antics, seems to be doing anything but outgrowing, well, anything.
But how else could DeMarco be a candidate for VOICE OF A GENERATION unless he was a wacky prankster? Millennials love that shit, see: Vine.
The vibes on Another One, however, are sending mixed messages. First there’s the tiredness and reluctance of a title like Another One. Like, really, how can you be anything but a “slacker” if you name your album that? It feels like he’s been talked into this one. Or maybe DeMarco wants us to think he’s been talked into this one. Many things are so, so difficult for chillers, or simply not worth the effort, particularly coming up with a flowery album title. And truly, it might be off-putting if DeMarco had come up with something too… earnest.
DeMarco, as his micro-celebrity-like presence implies, lives and dies by his ability to maintain an ironic distance. Without it, his popularity with the Pitchfork set might be quite unimaginable indeed. Because when it comes down to it, DeMarco has a lot more in common with John Mayer (aka King of Mom Music) than any one of his fans would probably like to acknowledge. (Wait, John Mayer did that whole ironic-funny thing too, didn’t he?!) However there’s one crucial difference: it’s OK to like Mac DeMarco in some under-40 circles.
There’s always been a tension between Mac’s punk-ish, rebellious attitude and his soft-on-the-ears, PG music. But with Another One we can hear that he’s really pulled in the reigns on a rap sheet that was already pretty mild. Compared to Salad Days, there’s much less wonky weirdness to lean on. Lyrically, Mac abides by safer refrains and fewer metaphors. His cutesy rhymes are still there, but they’re delivered with less waver. Mac’s always been dry, but in a way that implies he’s sun-bleached, not pastel. This time, we’re seeing periwinkle blue and canary yellow.
Whereas the instrumentation on Salad Days was fuller and richer, sometimes at the expense of DeMarco’s voice (but most often complimentary toward it, particularly when his own squeaky backup vocals showed up to pull up the rear), everything that is not-Mac-DeMarco’s-voice on Another One bows and steps aside. (“Without Me” and the title track, “Another One,” are the exceptions, letting warm organ refrains dominate, as is “My House By the Water” an oozing, dribbling ambient track.)
But all this drying up and stripping down could be attributed to the implication that Mac DeMarco’s had his heart broken. If you interpret the lyrics heard on Another One as anything close to autobiographical (which is easy to do: at the end of “My House By the Water” DeMarco spells out an address in Arverne, New York and says, “Stop on by I’ll make you a cup of coffee. See ya later.”) then it sounds like young DeMarco’s been real beat up by a lady who, he sings, “could be from down below.” Youch.
Whereas DeMarco relished in a childlike wonder paired with a self-referential criticism of his own immaturity back in 2014– (lyrics like “Blue boy, worried about the world’s eyes / Worried every time the sun shines / Worried about his haircut / Calm down, sweetheart, grow up,” and the chicken scratch handwriting on the cover pretty much say it all) he wants us to know that he’s preoccupied with the trappings of adulthood these days. Well, if you think love is for grownups and not men-children.
But one thing that DeMarco has done here that demonstrates a certain “maturity” and even a flash of real emotion is shy away from the super catchy pop riffs found on Salad Days. It’s almost as if he’s languishing here. Could he be in pain?
“She’ll just go on living, knowing all the time she’ll never understand what it means to love her, the way you love her, the way you love to love her,” he sings like a victim of ghosting or some-such cruel game.
And yet, true to Mac DeMarco the Chiller, there are few moments when he breaks his cool. Really, there’s only one I can think of. On a “Heart Like Hers” he sings, “Tried so hard to believe in something that will never be,” with something that for just a moment made me think of Jeff Buckley, if Jeff Buckley were emerging from a sauna.
It’s nice to see Mac traversing new territory, love songs and gettin’ dumped songs, and he deserves an applause for somehow maintaining his post-post-ironic cool throughout. But it’s hard not to wonder just how long he can hover in that same narrow frequency without breaking character. What happens when the haze clears up?
Be sure to check out Mac DeMarco’s upcoming shows:
Monday, August 17 at Bowery Ballroom; Tuesday, August 18 at Webster Hall; Wednesday, August 19 at Music Hall of Williamsburg; Thursday, August 20 at Warsaw.