Ballads bruised with warts

Slacker-poet Mac DeMarco's goofball charm is apparent on his latest work.
Slacker-poet Mac DeMarco's goofball charm is apparent on his latest work. PHOTO: CAPTURED TRACKS

Hubris, that bloated sense of self-importance, has felled artists through the ages. It may well be a synonym for insecurity, needing a string of sycophants to feed one's ego.

Canadian slacker-poet Mac DeMarco, thankfully, isn't one of those terrible monsters. Mug plastered with a buck-tooth smile, the 25-year-old does not take himself too seriously, ever the court jester whenever you tire of Kanye West's pomposity.

So much so that at the end of his new mini-album, Another One, DeMarco even shares his home address in Queens, New York, asking listeners to drop by for a cup of coffee. That address turns out to be true, with fans posting photo- graphic evidence.

This, however, does not mean he doesn't take his art seriously.

Released last year to critical acclaim, his second full-length release, Salad Days, epitomises slackerdom at its finest.



    Mac DeMarco

    Captured Tracks

    4/5 stars

He's Bill and Ted rolled into one; or the Johnny-come-lately who walks out of Richard Linklater's 1991 Gen X drama Slacker, blithely pointing the middle finger into corporate America in the 21st century.

Another One - note the seemingly throwaway title - continues that easy, lackadaisical way with words and melodies. Whereas almost everyone else is amped and prettied up for world domination, DeMarco's grubby, beardy, goofball charm is refreshing.

Still, the cavalier tone is deceptive. The beat shuffles like flip-flops. The guitars are tuned oddly. Everything replays like tape, but slower than it should be.

These are unguarded, unshowy moments, where you can be truly yourself, not afraid of being less than perfect.

Listen and you realise that the songs are bruised ballads, warts and all. As it turns out, the title track may not be about humility, but likely about (self-)humiliation.

He stares at the clock, waiting for his loved one to return, gradually getting antsy: "Must be another one/Must be another one/Must be another one she loves," he unfurls a list of romantic anxieties. The electric guitar riffs are blurred. The bassline, muffled, sounds submerged in water. Yet, not one note is wasted.

Just To Put Me Down is a bluesy skiffle, all wound up in his passive- aggressive monologue about whether his girlfriend is from hell or heaven.

In A Heart Like Hers, he offers his heart as sacrifice at the altar. "Done is all the love, love that I had saved for you," he confesses from the outset, his voice fleeting between hangover and melancholy. The melody is a mid-tempo stroll through the ruins. The synthesizer rises and falls like rain.

When the music gets perkier on No Other Heart, it's a come-hither with a sheepish smirk. "Come on and give this lover boy a try/I'll put the sparkle right back in your eyes/What could you lose?" he asks, a lady-killer oozing baby blues.

Even when he resigns to his fate that the girl may be better off without him, he doesn't sound bitter at all. "As long as I know she's happy," he sings, ostensibly at peace, in Without Me - except that he has, as he puts it, worked a "strange, warped octave pedal" on the guitar and underlined the tune with a synthesizer drone.

The effect is disconcerting. Is everything all right? Maybe you'll drop by his Queens abode next time you visit New York and check up on him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Ballads bruised with warts'. Print Edition | Subscribe