There’s something about a gap in one’s front teeth that lends a certain Mona Lisa ambiguity to one’s facial expressions. Even if a gap-toothed individual is male, the most innocent smile can look as sinister as a midway carny’s rictus.
Canadian jangle popster Mac DeMarco’s signature dentition functions as a sort of gateway to his mind: At first listen, he might almost be a folk guitarist, with his preference for soft strings, airy vocals, and bittersweet laments — the kind of bro who carries a six-string everywhere and never wears a shirt. But like a whistler sharply inhaling the air, all of a sudden you realize you’ve been drawn in by some mad force, as DeMarco has refracted the mellowness into something warped, a better soundtrack for a 3 a.m. come-down than a 3 p.m. swim.
As befitting someone who’s opened for Tame Impala, probably the leading psychedelic band around, DeMarco isn’t above a bit of weirdness. He doesn’t traffic in galactic soundscapes the way Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker does, opting for a quiet sort of glam-rock, like early T. Rex with more prominent drums. His low-budget videos are artsy-strange. “My Kind of Woman,” probably the most polished, is a roller-coaster of bad drag, neon, and newspaper, that will — if nothing else — make you doubt the sincerity of its title. There are auxiliary videos that highlight the stoner weirdness, too. In one, keyboardist Jon Lent details how he joined the band, thanking his fellow members — who don’t seem to know who he is — and bragging that he got to meet Lars Ulrich of Metallica. (DeMarco’s debut EP, Rock and Roll Night Club, features skits of its own.) “I Was a Fool to Care” has a guy in a puppy mask and closes with the wearer of said mask sitting at a cluttered desk and watching, on his laptop, the Simpsons episode that stars James Taylor.
DeMarco has a thing for masks. A backup “dancer” in the video for the ’80s cheese-revival cover of Prince’s “It’s Gonna Be Lonely” bobs up and down wearing something that Hannibal Lecter would, and the crypto-dancer in “Another One” looks like Michael Jackson. For all his obvious songwriting talent, it’s curious that DeMarco puts references and covers front-and-center. But his underwater-sounding version of Eric Clapton’s cardboard-dry “Change the World” retains the languor of the original while adding a new layer of sadness. Change the world? No, this maker of so-called “jizz jazz” probably won’t.
What’s arguably strangest about DeMarco’s sound is that many of his songs are short. If you think of a song lasting barely two minutes, you’d probably assume it was a punk track (or maybe a Magnetic Fields ditty). But DeMarco’s two best-known cuts — “Blue Boy” and “Salad Days” — come to four-and-a-half minutes combined. Most people might pad them out with an extra verse, but the charms of being this cheekily demented dictate otherwise. They’re perfect as is.