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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Mac DeMarco finds two ways to rock
The macho and the dreamy
on
Trying on a gutter-glam persona.
Trying on a gutter-glam persona.

If you compare the covers of Mac DeMarco's 2012 EP, Rock and Roll Night Club, and Lou Reed's Transformer, you might imagine the young Canadian songwriter and the New York legend in front of adjacent rock-club bathroom mirrors, pursing their lips and touching up their mascara as they try on parallel gutter-glam personas.

I can't imagine DeMarco writing anything so devastating as "Perfect Day" anytime soon, but like Reed in 1972, he's trying to have rock both ways: macho and dreamy. DeMarco's "Ode to Viceroy," from his latest LP, 2, has nothing on the screwy characters Reed depicts so fondly in "Hangin' 'Round." It is slyly charming for a song about a brand of cigarettes, however. (To be fair, DeMarco hasn't got David Bowie on production or the late Mick Ronson on guitar.)

DeMarco's sound shaped up considerably over the course of 2012. Though he sings in a husky, imitation-Bowie baritone on Rock's title track, he sticks to a more good-natured, conversational voice throughout 2. The affable and observant songs of Jonathan Richman may come to mind when you're listening to the latter.

The spirit of Rock can be found in DeMarco's newest work, yet it's not always the focus. Though "Freaking Out the Neighborhood" is a humorous pastiche of sorts, DeMarco's songs aren't just about kitsch. They also explore uncomfortable emotions. "Cooking Up Something Good" kicks off 2 on a jaunty note. DeMarco strums his clean-toned guitar as he paints a weird family scene, hinting at anxiety in the chorus: "Oh, when life moves this slowly/Oh, just try and let it go."

At first, that warm guitar might strike you as half-assed, but DeMarco uses it to make room for gentle chords and prickly leads, as on the intro to "Annie." Despite the odd presentation, he could turn out to be a consistently engaging and accessible songwriter.

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