(Captured Tracks; 2012)
By Maura McAndrew | 6 December 2012
Upon first listen, Mac DeMarco’s second album 2 (natch) is exciting and relatable enough: here’s a young singer-songwriter with a dependably ramshackle, quirky-enough sound and simple songs that don’t deviate much from down-home topics like cigarettes and family relationships. DeMarco leans heavily on his influences, which, despite the rural woodsiness of 2’s cover, actually seems to be Britpop, particularly peripheral figures like Richard Hawley and Graham Coxon, as well as the less dramatic material of This Is Hardcore (1998)-era Pulp. Yet, his woozy, chiming guitar and otherwise relaxed demeanor grounds this album in a little world all its own.
Only after further listens is the problem with 2 revealed: its own world is a little too narrowly defined. Perhaps it’s no surprise that DeMarco is unwilling to branch out into weirder, more sonically and lyrically diverse territory. It doesn’t even seem to cross his mind. He’s crafted a record with an appealing sense of ease and bright flashes of humor, but that’s about it. It’s mighty enjoyable, sure, but far from revelatory.
DeMarco, who is based in Montreal, has spent most of his short career going by moniker Makeout Videotape, but this year he’s released two records under his Christian name. However, DeMarco is still trying on different guises: the first, the Rock and Roll Night Club EP, was an exercise in ’70s soft rock, while 2 immerses itself in strummy indie-good cheer. DeMarco’s knack for image-baiting and playful acting is clear just from his record covers alone: Rock and Roll Night Club‘s photo features a lipstick-applying DeMarco at a hazy half-lit mirror, his mouth a Mick Jagger pucker, while on 2 he’s flannel-and-cap-clad, flashing a peace sign from somewhere among the Canadian pines. It’s a playful nod to the kind of northern acoustic indie-folk pedaled by the likes of Bon Iver in his pre-yacht rock days, but it begs the question: who is Mac DeMarco? 2 doesn’t really provide much of a clue.
Britpop roots are particularly apparent later in the album, on tracks like “The Stars Keep on Calling my Name” and the very pretty, Hawley-esque “My Kind of Woman.” The record decidedly goes sleepier on its second half, with the languid “Boe Zaah” and “Sherrill” much too close to retreads of what we’ve already heard. And closer “Still Together” is probably the only song on the record I’d be inclined to skip—rather than wind down with the same relaxed sound as the rest of 2, DeMarco strips down the instrumentation to focus on his voice, which is lovely on the verses, but plain piercing at the falsetto chorus.
The first half of 2 is where DeMarco impresses most: here he demonstrates his way with a spindly acoustic guitar hook and a wink. The latter comes through on highlights like “Freakin’ Out the Neighborhood” and “Ode to Viceroy,” a silly love song to the cigarette brand. DeMarco sings on the chorus: “Aw, don’t let me see you cryin’ / ‘Cause oh, honey, I’ll smoke ya til I’m dyin’.” A similar tone throughout 2 would go a long way toward making it more memorable, because there’s just not much more to grasp onto. Though not as playful, “Annie” is the clear standout, with guitar that snaps like elastic over DeMarco’s quiet vocal. Though it doesn’t divert from the very narrow scope of the album, on “Annie” DeMarco perfects his chosen sound. It combines the straight homage of the rest of the record with an undeniable ’90s Beck influence—not quite junkyard grunge, but woozy and tipsy and just a little grimy. “I’m goin’ dowwwwwn,” Demarco repeats as his guitar follows, descending the scale uneasily, weaving, and one wishes he would keep following it, rather than straightening back up for more smooth, chiming guitar pop. Thus, 2 seems to merely scratch the surface of what DeMarco can do; a record of what-ifs and wishes, 2 is only a partial glimpse of a guy we know too little about.