On the opening track of his new release “Salad Days,” 23-year-old singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco croons, “Always feeling tired, smiling when required/Write another year off and kindly resign.”
Fans of the goofy, perhaps too-relaxed guitarist might be thrown off by this sentiment, which seems out of place among his past lyrical references to unemployment, leaving town and his favorite brand of cigarettes.
The bizarre jokester, who has a reputation for obscene onstage antics and a crude, self-deprecating sense of humor, rarely expressed his mounting fatigue on his 2012 releases “2” and “Rock and Roll Nightclub,” where he relied on opaque references to his most personal thoughts.
Crucial moments of acute self-awareness and mature honesty are ubiquitous throughout “Salad Days.” Indie rock’s rebellious and slightly twisted version of Prince Charming has perhaps always been this weary and wise underneath his carefree persona, but, up until now, he had yet to offer more than thinly veiled metaphors.
DeMarco’s multifaceted nature is what makes him such a fascinating character. The air of bemused detachment that surrounds his gap-toothed smirk hints that he could not care less, yet his love ballads, including the most recent “Let My Baby Stay,” ring with sincerity and tenderness. DeMarco recorded the entirety of “Salad Days” at a studio located inside his Brooklyn apartment, playing every instrument himself.
Through “Salad Days’” sleepy, wobbling guitar melodies and catchy rhythms, DeMarco offers some guidance with a welcoming voice. “Blue Boy,” a dreamy, ambling track urges listeners to “calm down, sweetheart, grow up,” while the warm and weathered “Brother,” asks them to “take it slowly, brother, let it go now.”
On the achingly lonely and exploratory “Chamber of Reflection” — which rapper Tyler, The Creator has called DeMarco’s best song to date — DeMarco tells audiences to “spend some time alone.”
Yet DeMarco seems to be grappling with his own advice on the album’s lead single “Passing Out Pieces,” again expressing discomfort with his newfound fame. “Can’t shake concern,” he sings. “Seems that every time that I turn I’m passing out pieces of me/Don’t you know nothing comes free?”
The troubled penultimate track “Go Easy” finally moves into the album’s conclusion, an entrancing and slightly discordant instrumental titled “Johnny’s Odyssey,” which is a slight departure from DeMarco’s previous work.
But just as listeners start to think that everyone’s favorite mischief-maker has grown up — that “Salad Days” is in fact a departure from the endearing shenanigans of his 2012 projects — DeMarco’s speaking voice interrupts the silence after the last chord of the album fades away. “Hi guys, this is Mac,” he says. “Thank you for joining me, see you again soon. Buh-bye.”
The artist’s growth is unmistakable, but DeMarco’s youthful, warped sense of humor is not going anywhere.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 9 print edition. Alex Berner-Coe is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.