Mac DeMarco is just as likely to pull his junk out onstage as he is to grab ahold of the venue’s water pipes, swing his legs around them, and scale the ceiling like some kind of overall-wearing Spider-Man. Trust me; I’ve seen him do both. When he started out, the Canadian singer-songwriter was winning listeners over everywhere he went. Maybe it was the gap-toothed smile. Maybe it was the contagious laugh. Maybe it was the puffs from hand-rolled joints onstage. No matter the reason, his personality is addictive. It’s a style that gives him a leg up on the college scene and two more up on the drug scene, but we, as a culture, have gotten too tied up in Mac DeMarco the Character and not enough in tune with Mac DeMarco the Musician, and honestly, it freaks me out.
He’s wild, he’s charming, and he’s goofy, yes, but hype has pushed him so far that we’re close to nixing the very contributions we love him most for: his music. DeMarco crafts the perfect vintage twist of lo-fi acoustic indie rock that is ideal for humid summer days on an Allston porch. His voice floats between John Lennon melodies and a roommate’s haze, slurring love lines about his longtime girlfriend and Viceroy cigarettes. That music, like any real musician’s legacy should, can hold its own. At a certain point, that personality—specifically its antics—drags DeMarco down. Then again, the freshly minted 25-year-old is starting to outgrow that phase.
In a recent interview with Stereogum, DeMarco talked at length about his ever-growing fanbase and how bizarrely cultish it can get, specifically in that he feels like a grandfather to his relatively young listeners. When he hosts an open-invite BBQ, pools of tweens and teens show up. He’s not off-the-walls absurd. Instead, he’s patiently flipping hot dogs, wiping sweat off his forehead, staying focused on the work at hand. “I never would have done that myself as a young man,” he says, referring to those who drove down to his New York City apartment from places as far as northern Maine. “I liked bands a lot, but are you kidding me? That’s fucking crazy! But it’s cool at the same time. But? It. Is. Fucking crazy.” He grapples back and forth with the matter, but at the end of the day, he understands. DeMarco has made peace with the Simpsons-like action figure he’s now praised as being.
When we accept a musician as the image they’ve designed, intentionally or not, we tell them they’re good enough. We tell them to stop hiking upwards. We tell them the view from here is already pretty chill. Like a boss that praises their worker on the regular, stripping meaning from the word, we’ve stopped giving DeMarco something to reach higher for.
That includes his newest album—sorry, “mini-LP”—Another One, a cheeky nod to what he already knows: he’s churning out work that’s decent at best. It’s a fistfull of breadcrumbs thrown to sitting ducks crowding the edge of the dock. They want more, and anything, as long as it’s edible and safe, tastes great coming from his hand. “The Way You’d Love Her” curls with shaking guitar lines and grinning chords. “Just To Put Me Down” drives by in a wood-paneled Buick to high five you during sundown. “I’ve Been Waiting For Her” is dad-ready rock. There’s good tracks here, of course, but that’s it. They’re just “good”. The brilliance of Salad Days’ “Passing Out Pieces”, 2’s “Ode to Viceroy”, and Rock and Roll Nightclub‘s “Me and Mine” are enough to make up for what these lack. As long as we’re too caught in the encore cheers to question whether or not he’s pushing himself to work harder, he won’t. The demand here is for “more,” not for “better”.
That’s a contradiction in itself. DeMarco holes himself in his tiny home studio in hopes of making something that is better in terms of production. He doesn’t record it once and send it off to the printers. He puts thought and care into the sound of what he’s crafting. We all know the man loves his reel-to-reel recordings. It’s the riffs, the melodies, and the similarities between it all that fail to see him revise the actual song structure.
Another One ends with “My House By The Water”, a track that literally closes with him listing his address and a playful invite: “Stop on by. I’ll make you a cup of coffee. See ya later!” It’s 2015. Kids prefer to chat exclusively using emojis instead of actually using the phone to, you know, call someone. To DeMarco fans and the youth in general, stopping by for a cup of coffee is less real-life scary than it is snapchat-perfect ready. As fans began turning up one by one before the album even dropped (Thanks, internet!), he found himself being gifted pineapples, sketches, and fans’ own homemade coffee (Nothing beats 2014’s Most Grotesque Gift: a pickled pig fetus tattooed with him as a mermaid). Meeting an idol is an opportunity, but for most that show up at his doorstep, it’s considered a run-in with the man of the moment, not the musician they’re trying to mimic.
His sloppy appeal is the worst best thing for his career — well, if you’re trying to hear his songs live, that is. When listeners go to see Mac DeMarco now, it’s to see him to something crazy. There’s a desire to catch him at his wildest, to share a spliff with friends, and play it back for those who couldn’t score tickets in time because you had your iPhone out right at the perfect moment. His shows are anticipated Last Night Was Crazy stories for mornings that haven’t arrived yet. Yet as inescapable as his hype is, without it, he couldn’t sell as many tickets. He needs it. Do we?
So please, raise your right hand and follow me in this oath: I will no longer act surprised over expected surprises, I will not idolize characterization over content, and I will give weed-loving slacker rock the attention it deserves. Now, who’s gonna let us bum a cigarette off them before this show?