When Mac DeMarco rose out of the ashes of Makeout Videotape and released his debut solo EP on Captured Tracks earlier this year, much of the critical discussion surrounding the record focused on his perceived disingenuousness. See, DeMarco is a jokester of the most devilish sort. Initial promo photos featured a glammed out DeMarco mugging cluelessly at the camera. He’s self-described his early tunes as “jizz-jazz” and Rock And Roll Night Club was marked with Mystery Train worthy radio station tags. But the songs were sincere. Underneath it all there was an emotional truth to the sentiments found in “Baby’s Wearing Blue Jeans” and “She’s Really All I Need.”
On 2 we find DeMarco expanding further on that sincerity and clearing up any misconceptions listeners might have had. Despite the mentions of “snot rockets” in interviews and the general goofiness he exudes, with his plaid-button down and gap-toothed grin, Mac DeMarco has toned down the over-the-top imagery of Rock and Roll Night Club in favor of sleazy slacker rock.
All this sounds poised for a letdown, a singer known for his eccentricities paring back the weirdness in favor of simple guitar pop, but it works for DeMarco here. His affected baritone from Rock and Roll Night Club–an effect apparently created by slowing down the tape machine that DeMarco recorded the album–is largely absent here, in favor of boyish enthusiasm and breezy harmonies, as best exemplified by “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name.” You could accuse him certainly of some sort of bait-and-switch, but DeMarco’s platitudes on “My Kind Of Woman” might have ended up lost in the make-up malaise if he were still hiding behind gobs of eyeliner. Certainly the “Oh baby/ Oh man/ You’re making me crazy/ You’re really driving me mad” isn’t the most innovative of song-openers, but over interlocking arpeggios, DeMarco’s straight-faced delivery sells what could have been cliché-riddled lines.
The same could be said for much of the instrumentation. So much of DeMarco’s musical stylings feel inherently familiar, as reliant on the reverb-free sheen of Brit-Pop as on the ’50s crooners that his vocals clearly ape, but this nostalgic focus works in favor of the release rather than against it. “Ode To Viceroy”’s throbbing bassline and witty romanticisms aimed at the harbinger of dirt cheap nicotine sound at once wholly familiar and a breath of fresh air in a climate rapidly spiraling away from the songwriting format DeMarco holds dear. He sings “Viceroy” as a cultural signifier, an impossibly uncool and under-respected object of desire propped up by the absolute sincerity of his “Oh honey I’ll smoke you ’til I’m dyin’”s. Lightly chorused guitar arpeggios interweave under DeMarco’s watchful eye. He’s scheming, he’s smirking, but he means it, and his ever-sharpened musical toolkit reflects that.
It’s on “Boe Zaah,” a brief interlude, that the simple beauty of DeMarco’s songwriting becomes clearest. Vocals cast aside, DeMarco crafts a lurching, nauseating acoustic guitar led soft-rock piece–moaning slide guitars and all. It is in most ways an emblem of the rest of the tracks on the record. Though DeMarco’s vocals are noticeably absent, it bobs and lurches in its own largely dry way. These are descriptions that could be leveled at any of the tracks on 2 but each manages to approach the same simple formula in different ways: “Sherril” bears some busy basslines, and “Freaking Out The Neighborhood” pours on the yacht-rock guitar leads. DeMarco’s dealing in the past, in nostalgia, but it’s of the most brilliant and engaging sort, if only because the songs themselves are so commanding. Whether you choose to consciously engage with DeMarco’s vocals, either of the overlapping guitar lines, the surprisingly fertile basslines, it’s a wonderland of captivating melodies. The hooks are deep and unrelenting. Instrumental interludes included, 2 is a record that’s potent enough to embed itself deeply into your subconscious.
The roots extend back all the way to the 50s and find themselves woven throughout the intervening eras, but 2 finds Mac DeMarco growing as an artist, settling into a workman-like rhythm and puttering through some of the catchiest tracks of the year. Free of any hip genre-signifiers, 2 sees DeMarco find his home in an endless jangle, humming down the Main Street of your brain with a guitar slung over his shoulder. He’s the plaid clad drifter wandering your hometown, but with 2 you might find DeMarco setting up shop for good.
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