The eccentric singer/songwriter has taken steps towards a more mature outlook on his latest full-length, but his skills as an arranger and songwriter are still superb.
Mac DeMarco has taken an interesting path to maturity. The Canadian singer-songwriter's earliest work, both as Makeout Videotape and on his debut album Rock and Roll Night Club, had a gleeful, wanton absurdity to them, but that all seemed to change once DeMarco put out his second album, 2. It seemed as if DeMarco had grown up by leaps and bounds overnight. His Jekyll/Hyde act of meshing the jokester and the romantic on Night Club was gone, replaced by songs that tried to mesh DeMarco's sense of humor with his sincere streak. At his heart, DeMarco is still a fractured soul, but he's found better ways of expressing that fractured songwriting persona. It's an evolution that's still continuing on his latest album, Salad Days, which does an able job of delivering more of what its predecessor promised.
For someone who has such a reputation for strangeness, Mac DeMarco is actually quite a conventional songwriter in most ways, taking more from Steely Dan and John Lennon than R. Stevie Moore. That actually works in his favor, as DeMarco's songs tend to be tighter and more well-constructed than many of his contemporaries, and Salad Days is no exception in this regard. If you enjoyed DeMarco's mid-tempo jams and his clean, distinctive guitar tone, this is just more of the same. If anything's changed, it's DeMarco’s outlook. The goofy prankster from his early work is becoming less and less prevalent. While Mac's stoner side still pops up, as on the title track, his voice has more pangs of regret than anything else. It's a risky move from him, one that could possibly make Salad Days an alienating listen for some fans.
Truth be told, though, I don't know many people who would take a self-sabotaging prankster over a sincere troubadour who pays attention to songcraft, and DeMarco's newfound seriousness goes a long way towards making Salad Days a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Even though DeMarco is the kind of songwriter who managed to make a song about his favorite cigarettes into something enjoyable, it's nice to hear him move forward towards songs like "Brother" and "Let Her Go", two of Salad Days's most affecting moments. It doesn't feel like a forced maturity, either; DeMarco never sacrifices any of his more charming qualities for the sake of "growing up." Mac's just getting a little older, a little wiser, and it has made him a better artist as a result.
There isn't much about Salad Days that indicates that DeMarco will drastically shift his style any time soon. It seems more likely that he's staying entrenched in his own style and refining it bit by bit. The progression that Salad Days shows is encouraging, even if the album starts to peter out at the end. DeMarco's a multi-faceted songwriter capable of more than he had previously hinted at when his career started. Odds are, he'll give us an album that's even better than Salad Days, but that's not to take away from what he's accomplished here. He's come a long way from corny radio station interludes on his albums, and I personally couldn't be happier.