Album Review: Mac DeMarco – Rock and Roll Nightclub EP

[Captured Tracks; 2012]

MP3: Mac DeMarco – “Baby’s Wearin’ Blue Jeans”

Mac DeMarco refers to his music as “jizz jazz.” His EP cover is a lo-fi photo of himself with the surroundings out of focus. The EP itself has two radio interludes hosted by a DJ with a deep, gurgling voice that sets a slightly unsettling tone for the music. The music itself is a blend of glam rock, 50’s rock and roll, and the jangly guitar pop that is Captured Tracks’ trademark. These blurbs about Mac DeMarco’s debut EP, Rock And Roll Night Club, seem like they’d come together to form a rather strange, of-the-moment release, but the actual product turns out to be a fairly simple, enjoyable lo-fi guitar pop record that defies the expectations set up by its aesthetic choices.

In other words, this is the kind of record it would be easy to quickly file away as a “band of the week” deal that won’t be heard from again. There’s no way of knowing if that will be true, but Rock And Roll Night Club does have its merits that make it worth listening to right now. For starters, there’s DeMarco’s voice. He has an authoritative presence as a vocalist that makes the storytelling lyrics on Rock And Roll Night Club sound convincing. He also showcases a penchant for hooks, especially on highlights like “European Vegas,” that turns many of the songs into sticky earworms that stay with the listener long after the music is over. These kinds of musical tools don’t sound like anything special or unusual, but the way they’re employed helps make them stand out. DeMarco seems to have a good knowledge of what he does well, so he sticks these aspects to the forefront of the music and lets them do their jobs unhindered by risk-taking elsewhere. The backing is simple and loose, befitting of the general vibe put forth by DeMarco himself, and doesn’t take any unexpected left turns. It’s a straightforward, simple approach, and an effective one at that.

Where the music deviates from the norm is in its tone. DeMarco lends a sort of stray cat persona to the songs, and the aforementioned radio interludes set the stage in a rather strange way. It helps turn the EP from easygoing and nostalgic into something darker that wouldn’t be out of place if it was heard in a bar late at night, after most of the partying crowd has left. It’s a little unsettling when you think about it, although upon listening, the darker aspects are usually drowned out by the easygoing musical leanings. “Baby’s Wearing Blue Jeans” is the best example of this contrast; one of the most upbeat tracks on the EP, it pairs one of its more memorable choruses with a paranoid guitar line for one of the biggest highlights and the release’s advance single.

In length, Rock And Roll Night Club is closer to an album than the EP it’s being marketed as, consisting of 12 songs making up 30 minutes of music. It’s easily worth the listen though, as its combination of a relatively safe musical approach with weird undertones makes it one of the more interesting things to come out this year. The recycling of sounds from past eras of music has become a huge trend over the past few years, but when those sounds are successfully appropriated in new ways, like they are here, the result proves to be very worthwhile.