Titling the A-side from an upcoming 7″ single “Tambourine Light” couldn’t have been a mistake by psych-folk rockers Woods. Before lead singer Jeremy Earl’s voice can begin, his shimmering guitar riff engenders comparisons to The Byrds’ epochal cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man”. It’s not just Earl and his guitar tone; everyone in Woods manages to summon the spirit of the folk-rock originators. Kevin Morby’s barely there, but anchoring bass doesn’t fall far from the Chris Hillman tree. The way Aaron Neveu plays his lilting drummer pattern, Michael Clarke may as well be manning the kit. Even Woods’ soft harmonizing exists on the same spectrum as the Roger McGuinn-led group In the “jingle-jangle morning” it’s clear who Woods are following.
There are digressions though. Earl’s voice is best described as “quietly aching,” whereas McGuinn’s is routinely labelled “nasal” or “drawling.” And while that’s a miniscule difference, it’s an important one. McGuinn sometimes sounded disappointed singing through those nostrils, but you got the sense he’d move past it. With Earl, it’s harder to tell. Sure he’s looking up “past the Sun,” but at what and for how long? “Forever” is a word he let’s go of as the band gels into a restful groove. That said it’s an eternity where the bliss of it being “forever morning” can easily be misconstrued as “forever mourning.” In that period of time he’s pushed creeping shadows away and has felt all sorts of challenges come up “against him.” Hearing Earl describe these struggles you realize if anyone’s ready “for to fade,” it’s him.
(“Tambourine Light” will be out July 8 on Captured Tracks and is backed by “Tomorrow’s Only Yesterday”. You can hear the track here now.)
As I’m writing this, I want to shove my head straight through my laptop. Internally I’m screaming one “simple” question in my head, “why does Mac Demarco do this?” “Why shield gorgeous jangle pop with juvenile live shows and slimy presentation?” I wonder aloud. Trying to rationalize “an off-kilter persona is perfectly acceptable in rock,” I abruptly pause once realizing that if taken too far “off-kilter” can become an unwelcome diversion. Scanning my own library, most “slackers” I find are paper tigers. Stephan Malkmus appears borderline “lazy” in his delivery on a track like “Summer Babe (Winter Version)”, but he still had to get up off the couch and write the anthemic chorus.
I picture Edmonton-native Demarco sinking further into a couch, Cheetos crumbs and flecks of stale weed showering over him. Hearing the sedate guitar riffs and tottering “surf synth” of “Passing Out Pieces” doesn’t win any hearts or minds. Demarco volunteers, “watching my life pass right in front of my eyes” and as he says it you can hear the infinite resignation in his voice. He’s not powerless to stop what’s going on; so much as he’s unwilling. When you hear “oh is it boring” sighed, you want to shake Demarco out of his glassy-eyed stare. “What mom don’t know has taken its toll on me,” is the one kernel of honesty to be pried out of the gap-toothed singer. The slovenly exterior isn’t a distraction from the music; it’s a distraction from Demarco.
Mac Demarco’s new album Salad Days arrives April 1 via Captured Tracks. And listen to “Passing Out Pieces” here.