It seems as if DeMarco, as of late, has caused his own cultural revolution; one filled with mismatched fashion, uncut guitar strings, and a whole lot of viceroys, but that’s the side effect of what the real intrigue is to me. I used to be opposed to anything related to Mac’s sound, his style, and even whatever the heck is going on with his band. I didn’t get it, and I’m sure that a lot of people who have a grasp on today’s music scene can echo my sentiments. The timbre and effects on his guitar didn’t really do anything for me, and I was at a loss every time I watched him fling his persona and character all about the stage.
I finally decided to give in when DeMarco released his mini-LP, “Another One”, back in August 2015. Everyone around the internet was extremely excited at the prospect of new Mac DeMarco music that I thought I was feeling left out not divulging myself into his discography, so I started with “2”, his full length debut, and it finally clicked. What I have come to love about Mac DeMarco’s music are things that seem fairly simple, yet when executed effectively, can lead to dangerously addictive results, so here we go.
Categorized as jangle pop, lo-fi, and at times psychedelic by his critics, Mac’s genre really fluctuates from time to time, but he has self-proclaimed his style of music as “jizz jazz”, gracefully enough. You can definitely hear the Steely Dan and Dire Straights influences straight out of the 70s, but also aspects of classic 80s pop. In one song, “Chamber of Reflection”, the melody is sampled from an electronic jazz song from 1975, by Japanese artist Shigeo Sekito, and the name? Taken from an old freemason tradition. Even the title of his second LP, “Salad Days”, comes from a Shakespearean term describing the ills of youth. Behind the lovable slacker persona, there’s a more methodical artist working hard to master his craft. Mac definitely knows his shit and he’s not afraid to let you know.
The meat of Mac’s sound, though, comes into play with the compositional techniques he uses, be it with his noodly guitar fed through presets of reverb and chorus pick ups on his earlier work, or with the warm synthesizers and Rhodes 54 keyboard he has smuggled into his later records. He records on analog tape, which is a reel to reel system that allows for a much higher fidelity than other techniques, mirroring the sound of the 80s that this practice was popular in. In an extensive interview with Pitchfork, the distorted guitar sounds on “Salad Days” actually come from excess smoke that warped his tapes over time. As it would go, he liked the sound and stuck with it for the release.
At first listen, most of the songs seem to follow the same pattern as any pop song would, but instead of employing the usual aspects of a hit song, Mac sticks to the basics, and it works. A good verse and chorus couple doesn’t seem to need much else to make a bang, and he seems to know his craft and how it will work. It’s apparent on the laid back “Ode to Viceroy” or lush “Passing Out Pieces” that a smooth transition from one section of a song to the other is much more sonically pleasing than playing “pimp my track” and adding a pre chorus, bridge, or even key change.
Digging deeper, there is a tension and release factor than really makes a Mac DeMarco song tick, and the magic is within his affinity to create complex chords progressions not usually seen in the music industry. Looking at the composition of, “Another One”, DeMarco stacks the album with a motif of 6th chords throughout. The 6th provides the chilled out, lo-fi feel that most of Mac’s music emanates, as it isn’t as harsh as a straight 7th chord. In addition to this, he has been liberal in the about of major and minor 7th chord use in his work, which has lead to a softer, somewhat ethereal tone overall. It makes the whole experience of listening to one of his albums like its own little trip through a dense layer of fog, but I digress. That’s enough music theory for right now.
I think what really gets people is how much they can relate to Mac as a person. He isn’t a guarded figure that “leaves it all on the stage”. He’s relatable and he has his own life besides for being a rock star (which he fully embodies while assuming the role, don’t get me wrong). His sets are always fun, and it seems like he is truly enjoying what he does on stage. It has been noted that he likes to say whatever first comes to mind in the microphone, and really doesn’t take anything too seriously-except for music that is. “I take making music seriously,” he says. “But you have to have a sense of humor about yourself. I invite people into my life. That’s how I do it.”
Ultimately, Mac DeMarco is just being himself. He’s also making damn good music at the same time, and to be honest, there really isn’t any science there.