Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco is something of a minimalist musician, but is considered one of the most underrated indie artists of our time. Despite his beloved goofy persona, DeMarco understands that keeping things subtle in the mix can lead to sweetness. It's why he's deemed a pioneer of the "slacker rock" genre, as well as indie rock, blue wave, and psychedelic pop. He calls his brand of music "jizz jazz." We call it alternative bliss.
With a die-hard fanbase (who will surely be coming after us once they read this list), DeMarco provides earwormy tunes appropriate for an afternoon stroll with your partner, a smoking session with chums, a beach day, 3AM existential contemplation, and several other scenarios. He's already built up an impressive discography with much more to come around the corner, so we figured it's about time to tackle a Top 10 list of his best tunes.
To be clear: the only DeMarco songs we aren't including on this list are his purely-instrumental tracks. (At the time of publication, Five Easy Hot Dogs has not been released yet.) That being said, tracks from the rest of his six records have all been considered. Buckle up: it's time to breeze through Mac DeMarco song picks!
10. "For the First Time"
DeMarco hits us with dreamy, slow, and moody synths on "For the First Time." It sounds like a heartbreak song or a love song, but it actually falls somewhere in the middle: it's about the pains of being in a romantic relationship where there's some kind of distance. It could be a long distance relationship, Mac's lover could be working for the day and won't come home until later...it's really up to the listener's interpretation.
"For the First Time" was included on 2017's This Old Dog and proved DeMarco had mastered mixing synths, keys, bass, and other sounds – something he started on 2014's Salad Days. Listening to this song makes the world feel like it's moving in slow motion. The only reason "For the First Time" is so low on our list is because lyrically, we feel Mac has better love songs.
9. "My Old Man"
The opener of This Old Dog, "My Old Man" is one of the most unique-sounding songs in Mac's catalogue. To be honest, it doesn't quite feel like an opening to an album...but the song is strong enough that we're surprised DeMarco didn't save it for the middle or grand finale of the record. It's one of the sunniest tunes about generational trauma we've ever heard.
That's right: "My Old Man" is about DeMarco seeing his father – an addict and abuser that left his family when Mac was very young – in his reflection more and more every day. In “My Old Man,” Mac describes how he sees himself aging both physically and mentally. As he reflects on his image in the mirror, he notes all the fun he’s had in the last few years is starting to take its toll. He also sees a connection between the rowdy life his father led and the way he’s been living the past few years. He's not quite transforming into his old man, but he sees the bits and pieces.
This song was partly inspired by the fact that DeMarco gets the birthday blues every year. Additionally, during an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Demarco spoke about his tenuous relationship with his father and shared his dad’s reaction to this song: "He gives me a call once in a while: 'Heard your song about me kid!' I was like, wait till you hear the rest, buddy."
8. "Let Her Go"
If we had to describe this Salad Days song as an object, we'd say it sounds like a bouquet of flowers. DeMarco even mentions flowers within the tune's second verse. "Let Her Go" is both delicate and tough: it's a romantic-sounding song about brutal honesty in relationships.
Honesty is crucial for a healthy relationship, but it can also destroy one. “Let Her Go” sees Mac advocate for complete honesty when it comes to decisions about whether to continue a relationship. We can't help feeling Mac made this for all the whishy-washy people out there who fear commitment and would rather stay in unhealthy situationships than be brave. A song made for our 21st century dating climate? Absolutely.
Ironically – or maybe intentionally – the melody of "Let Her Go" is similar to the "tale as old as time" melody from the song "Beauty and the Beast": the theme from Disney’s movie of the same name. Fans have even noted the gripping lyrics of the song tie into the plot of Beauty and the Beast. For example, the flower dying echoes the Beast's wilting rose, and the song's title could reflect how the Beast lets Belle go at one point. Mac remarked on the Beauty and the Beast similarities to "Let Her Go" in the Pitchfork ‘Macumentary’ Pepperoni Playboy.
7. "Salad Days"
As the title would suggest, the title track of "Salad Days" feels like warm summer sun and youth. The term "salad days" comes from the Shakespeare play Antony and Cleopatra of 1606. Cleopatra is nostalgic of her youthful gallivanting times with Julius Caesar and says, "My salad days / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood..." In modern usage, the phrase does not necessarily have to mean of young age, but rather of one’s peak in life or career. So it's interesting DeMarco chose to release this tune just after completing a monster tour.
"Salad Days" suggests that Mac, although still young, believes he is already past his glorious time of youth and feels there’s really nothing new for him. However, over groovy instrumental riffs and pleasant "la la la's," DeMarco promises he's not going anywhere for his fans. It's one of the most personal tracks DeMarco has put out. And although he may feel tired and weak in this song, "Salad Days" only proves to us he has so much more life – and adventures – ahead of him.
6. "Cooking Up Something Good"
A vibrant opener to Mac's sophomore album 2, "Cooking Up Something Good" contains a chipper, twisty-turny, and delicious guitar solo within the song's first 2 seconds. Seriously: every person who plays guitar needs to learn it. After that, "Cooking Up Something Good" is deeper than it seems on the surface. Underneath the cute, stress-relieving sounds is a dark story about Mac being the black sheep of the family, dealing with nicotine addiction, and his father selling drugs to locals.
The standout line, "Daddy's in the basement, cooking up something fine / While Rick's out on the pavement, flipping it for dimes," has intrigued fans for years. Many believe the thing Mac's dad is "cooking" is meth, while others have pointed out the lyrics are an homage to the Bob Dylan song "Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues." ("Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine / I’m on the pavement, thinking about the government.) In any case, we're just happy Mac was able to use this song to mention his mom and brother. Yes – DeMarco's brother, Hank DeMarco, is actually a ballet dancer.
5. "My Kind of Woman"
Another bomb track from 2, "My Kind of Woman" is pure romance. It's sunset drives, daydreams, and makeout sessions all wrapped up in pretty melodies. There's been tons of speculation by fans as to whether or not "My Kind of Woman" is the best track on the album, but putting opinions aside, it's easy to admit there's something very musically magnetic about this ballad.
The muse who inspired this song is DeMarco’s longterm girlfriend, Kiera McNally. They've been together since 2009 and both live in Los Angeles these days. There's really not much to say about "My Kind of Woman" except that in it, DeMarco truly wears his heart on his sleeve, and it's beautiful. Tear-jerking, even. Also, the music video sees DeMarco rocking a feminine fit across various environments, and it's amazing.
4. "Passing Out Pieces"
Syhths with bold energy, strange message, and a kooky music video to boot. "Passing Out Pieces" is a ridiculously cool track about Mac's identity. After a string of infamously riotous live shows and one great album, Mac DeMarco dropped "Passing Out Pieces" as the first single from Salad Days. Musically, it marked a huge new direction for Mac: one with more maturity and experimentation.
"Passing Out Pieces" comments on who Mac has become and what fans expect of him when they see his performances. While he's known for a crazy, quirky personality that’s made its mark on blogs, YouTube, and live shows across the world, it seems committing 100% to being yourself creates a dichotomy with the onstage and the off. Mac doesn't know exactly who he is anymore, but he'll keep sharing his stage personality with everyone. The scale and epicness of the music production only emphasizes the complicated nature of his precarious situation.
3. "Freaking Out the Neighborhood"
This one is for every wild child out there! Arguably Mac's most danceable number, "Freaking Out the Neighborhood" is a kitschy tune from 2 with some surf-rock influence and one of DeMarco's best vocal performances to date. Lyrically, this happy-go-lucky piece is one huge apology to Mac's mother. We know DeMarco has an unbreakable bond with his mom; she encouraged him to make music, has been a huge supporter of his work, and now co-stars in multiple different press opportunities. But there have been times when Mac's stage persona has been a bit concerning for her.
Mac explained the origin of this song in a TimeOut interview: "I did a karaoke set in Montreal last spring, and I ended up getting really, really drunk. All my clothes came off, beer got poured over me, percussive instrument tools found their way into my butt and my friend took a video of the thing. I thought it’d be funny, but it goes on YouTube and my aunt sees it, and my whole family. And they were not too pleased. My mom was like, 'Mac—what’s going on?' My aunt freaked out and thought I was smoking bath salts. I didn’t present some song to say, look, I’m sorry...it was all clear before. They understand that I’m just a bit of a goof. But I thought it’d be a fun thing to write a song about, so I did.”
2. "Ode to Viceroy"
Only Mac DeMarco can turn a ballad about cigarettes into something so gorgeous.
Yes, "Ode to Viceroy" is literally about Viceroy cigarettes: a brand that used to be big in America and isn't available in some parts of the world. One time, Mac bought Sheriff brand cigarettes. After smoking them and saying “they sucked d---”, he went back to his usual brand. As an apology to his beloved Viceroys, he penned this song. The fact "Ode to Viceroy" has remained a fan favorite after several years is a tribute to how Mac's silliness is his secret weapon as an artist. He is able to turn the simple into the extraordinary.
Within it's intricate and intoxicating music production, "Ode to Viceroy" hides a dark message. "The idea of the song isn’t, like, try cigarettes!" Mac explained in an interview with Thrasher. "It’s more, like, I have an addiction! In Canada all of the cigarettes are really, really moderated by the government so they wouldn’t do anything and that’s a good thing." Despite its grey message, we can say "Ode to Viceroy" is syrupy, smoky, surf rock-y bliss. This is one song you can't help but light up to.
1. "Chamber of Reflection"
A controversial pick? Yes, we know: "Ode to Viceroy" is the clear #1 for true DeMarco fans. But if we're talking about a great song in his catalogue that appeals to both the loyalists AND the newcomers, a song that's stood the test of time, a song that sounds completely like DeMarco while adding something new to the table...it has to go to "Chamber of Reflection."
Tyler, the Creator has described "Chamber of Reflection" as his favorite DeMarco track. So if that's not a huge compliment, we don't know what is. A "chamber of reflection" is a room people go into before being initiated into freemasonry. It’s essentially a meditation room where aspiring freemasons are locked in for a period of time, with the purpose of reflecting on what they've done in life and moving on from it. This song – which has a lonely, cold, and even bedroomy vibe to it – is Mac's version of reflecting on life. It's also the shimmering ballad climax of Salad Days.
The song starts with DeMarco telling a lover she needs to move on, then looking within himself to accept his life and have a more positive outlook. "It’s within that brings that lonely feeling / Understand that when you leave here / You'll be clear, among the better men" he croons on the second verse. With an iconic sampling of Japanese artist Shigeo Sekito’s 1975 song “The World II (ザ・ワードⅡ / セキトウ・シゲオ),” "Chamber of Reflection" is musically heavier than all of the tracks on Salad Days – let alone DeMarco's entire discography. But it's an existential, epic, and unflinching look at the human condition. It even touches upon Mac's relationship with fame. And because of its swirling pool of multiple meanings, it's easily our #1 pick.
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