A little bit of seriousness worked wonders for indie oddball Mac DeMarco’s debut, 2, which more cohesively developed his infectiously limber jangle while shedding the extraneous Ween-esque tomfoolery. Sophomore effort Salad Days goes one further, bringing a wider variety of old-school styles into the mix and injecting it all with thoughtful observations on life and love, morphing the young singer-songwriter from a waggish vagabond into a nonchalantly perceptive minstrel à la Double Fantasy-era John Lennon. Fusing airy jams to slinky, late-night soft rock and distorted lo-fi psych-pop, the record is a masterpiece in mellow mood-setting.
From the opening title track, the album adopts a lushly smooth, hazy tone, with warped hooks bent into curiously catchy, off-kilter rhythms. The song also launches Salad Days’ series of disillusioned ruminations with blasé lyrics of “rolling through life to roll over and die”; “Always feeling tired / Smiling when required / Write another year off and kindly resign.” That mix of sunny, loose melody and whimsical real talk hits breezy perfection three tracks later in “Let Her Go,” offering such jaded wisdom on matters of the heart as “Growing by the hour / Love just like a flower / But when the flower dies / You’ve got to say goodbye / And let her go.”
Elsewhere, DeMarco shows off his knack for recreating the smoky, sinuous lounge rock of the ’70s and ’80s. Much like Ariel Pink, it’s hard to know how much of DeMarco’s reverence for this stuff is tongue-in-cheek, but whether he’s warbling about loneliness atop echoes of reverb and frosty synths on “Chamber Of Reflection” or crooning his advice to “take it slowly” through the drifting funk of “Brother,” it’s convincing enough execution to wonder if leisure suits are ready for a comeback. Either way, dismissing too much of the record as goofy novelty would be a mistake. Though DeMarco certainly hasn’t ditched his slacker aesthetic, Salad Days is nonetheless a strikingly mature achievement for the 23-year-old.