By Jason Shoff
Mac DeMarco has the potential to become a breakout star in indie rock. I mean yes, he already has been getting plenty of critical acclaim and industry buzz, has a fan-base that grows with each album, and has been playing bigger and better festivals the past couple of years. But with his growing strength as a songwriter and his continued maturity as an artist, I wouldn’t be surprised if he (one day soon) achieves the kind of success and press that Tame Impala is currently experiencing with Currents. So when it was announced that he was releasing a new record, titled Another One, this summer, I was pretty thrilled to hear how (and if) DeMarco would continue to improve on his craft and fully realize the potential that I’m confident he’s capable of achieving. Yet as soon as I heard that this was only an eight-song EP, I couldn't help but feel that, regardless of growth, this will eventually become simply a minor entry in his catalog.
Yet, this has absolutely nothing to do with the songwriting. These aren’t toss-offs: the songs featured on Another One continue to build upon those found on Salad Days, and are in even more fully-formed and fleshed-out melodically. “The Way You’d Love Her” really sets the tone for the rest of the album, a mix of southern-fried slide guitar stomp and ‘80s yacht rock that wouldn’t sound out of place as a TV theme song from that decade (well, except for the sweet Clapton-esque guitar solo). The title track continues the soft rock vibe, to the point where you could imagine it being the backing music of one of those cheesy instructional videos you had to watch during driver’s ed or a middle school assembly. But trust me, this song is a lot better than it sounds, in no part thanks to a very Lennon-esque melody in the chorus that brings the song to the next level.
The Lennon comparisons continue (although this time in regards to his vocals) with the piano-driven “No Other Heart.” Imagine an alternate universe where he fronted The Doobie Brothers during their mid-70s peak, and you have a slight idea of what it sounds like. “Just to Put Me Down” continues the front porch summer vibes, a minor gem that features some excellent guitar playing from DeMarco, before we enter “quiet storm” R&B territory with the mid-tempo “A Heart Like Hers.” One could imagine a band like The Commodores or “Just My Imagination”-era Temptations nailing a song like this had it have been around at the time.
After an album of laid-back material, “I’ve Been Waiting for Her” provides a welcome boost of energy by adding a bit of garage rock to the equation. It’s a piece of Allman Brothers Band-by-way-of-The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” swagger that is a must add to your summer playlist. Then it’s back to ‘80s MOR ballad territory with “Without Me,” which segues into “My House By the Water,” an outro that’s a mix of swimming sound effects and a keyboard that sounds like it was sourced from a slightly-warped VHS tape. Oh, and then there’s the fact that he literally gives you his address at the very end of it, which, if you’re a reader of music blogs, you should have already heard about by now (and apparently some have already taken him up on the offer).
After a few listens to Another One, I’m still not quite sure what to think of this record. It’s clearly not a filler record or second rate-EP, or something that’s meant to hold over fans until he’s ready to unleash his next major album statement. The songs are too strong enough for it to be labeled as that. Yet, by the same token this is definitely a laid-back, straightforward effort that does have a couple pieces of filler, and at twenty-three minutes it’s short enough to fit on one side of a vinyl record. Plus, the fact that it’s being labeled as a “mini album” invites people to place it in a lesser position amongst his body of work.
So, I always come back to one question: why release it as that? Why not take the best songs from this EP’s sessions and attach them to a full-fledged album where they will get the recognition they deserve? After all, this isn’t the 1960s, where you needed to release two albums a year on top of several EPs and singles in order to stay relevant and keep your name in the public conscience. There’s way more competition now than there ever was back then, which means that an artist needs time to both give their fans time to digest an album and to launch an effective promotional campaign to gather press and build hype for their next release. So in essence, putting out multiple albums over the course of a year actually tends to hurts an artist more than it helps them (just ask Ryan Adams, who released three albums in 2005 only to have the second and third records receive much less fanfare and sales).
A great recent example of this is Sharon Van Etten. Last year, she released Are We There to an incredible amount of acclaim, so much so that I’m pretty sure I saw it appear on practically every “Best of 2014” list that I read last year. Then just last month she released an EP, I Don’t Want to Let You Down, that so far has received far less press and buzz. In fact, I didn’t even know that she was putting out an EP until I read about it on a Hear and Now document a few weeks before it was released. So would it have been wise, if her EP was a serious collection of songs, for her to hold off and release those a year or so on a legitimate album that would have garnered more press and attention? I think so. Now of course that doesn’t mean that EPs can’t be successful: Alice in Chain’s chart-topping Jar of Flies comes to mind (though it was released during the height of the grunge years and when any new music from the then drug-addled Layne Staley was considered a miracle). But more often than not, EPs are almost nearly destined to be forgotten, a collection of potentially worthy songs that end up falling through the cracks of an artist’s catalog.
And the songs on Another One deserves a better fate than that. Yet I can’t help to think that it will still be considered a minor release when all is said and done, which again makes me ask the question: why put this out? Then again, I do have his address now. Maybe I should go and ask him myself. And maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll even get a cup of coffee.