REVIEW: DeMarco’s ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’: the origin of modern indie music

Promotional artwork for Mac DeMarco’s ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’ courtesy of Jizz Jazz Studios

Mac DeMarco, one of the most important and largest names in modern indie music released his debut-mini EP Rock and Roll Night Club, which turns 10 years old this month. And with the musical footprint that DeMarco has made on the landscape of indie rock, the album also serves as a stark reminder of the entire journey that DeMarco has taken over the course of the past decade. So too does it remind us that the journey has always been one with DeMarco at the helm. We’ve only been along for the ride.

And along the way, there are some precious pit stops that DeMarco demands that we take, if only the EP’s title track could serve as one of them. Hardly the strongest track on the release, “Rock and Roll Night Club” at least serves as an ample introduction to the artist. 

As the guitar riff and toms build up to the break of the beat, we are met with a sound that is familiar to modern-day Mac DeMarco listeners. Once Mac begins singing, however, his voice sounds nothing like it has since the release of Rock and Roll Night Club. Deep, dark, quiet, and sleazy, Mac’s deep whispers over an otherwise upbeat track creates a somewhat creepy, gross feeling in the listener. The lyrics also completely contradict the tone of Mac’s voice. He described a night out on the town when singing: “Cruising in the moonlight / Heading downtown / Looking for some fast love / Gotta get down / Boogie Woogie woman / Looking my way / If you want a good time / Know just where I stay.” While they may lack depth, this track is a good introduction to the picture that Rock and Roll Night Club is trying to paint, driving with Mac headed out for a good time. 

Track two, “96.7 The Pipe” is a skit, an intermission, as the bumpers found on radio stations when the announcer states the station name and number. In an even deeper, darker, quieter, and sleazier voice, the announcer says, “Welcome back, you’re rocking straight through midnight with me, Dojo Daniel, On 96.7 The Pipe. Up next: We got a triple shot of Mac DeMarco coming at ya, stuffing it down the chute.” This further places us in the world that Mac DeMarco is creating: going out for a night, we are listening to the radio in the car. 

Rock and Roll Night Club’s “One More Tear to Cry” sticks to the tone that was set up in “Rock and Roll Night Club,” with DeMarco’s deep, dark voice, over the twangy picking of some chords on an electric guitar, Mac sings about a girl who he loved, but she never loved him back. He describes how the world around him has remained physically the exact same, explaining how his Massachusetts high school is still standing, “except this time it’s without you.” He explains that without this girl, his nights are going to be lonely, and this gives us a reason for why Mac DeMarco is heading out for some fun: to get his mind off of a lost love. 

We get a taste of modern Mac DeMarco’s voice in the EP’s seventh track. Somewhat moaning and droning, Mac’s higher pitched voice brings the brightness and happiness in the vocals of “She’s Really All I Need.” The lyrics on this track also bring what has been missing so far in this EP, and shows Mac’s potential not only as a producer and instrumentalist, but also as an artist and songwriter. The lyrics illustrate how while the world can be a hard, difficult place to be, all that really matters is the girl that Mac DeMarco loves, and she can make it all right, as DeMarco sings: “Up out of bed at 3 / And I feel like I’m dying / But if she’s there next to me / Then there’s no use in crying / ‘Cause she’s really all I need.” The sheer number of guitar tracks on this song is impressive with at least two rhythm guitars, a lead guitar that goes along with the vocals, a solo, and a couple tracks that jump around from time to time, switching between the listener’s right and left ears. Mac has spent a lot of time on this album, and his attention to detail and ability to fill a song to the brim while also maintaining a simple, laid-back sound is outstanding. 

“I’m a Man,” then sticks to the same instrumentation and sounds that have been found throughout this entire EP. Mac now has some harmonies and background vocals incorporated into the chorus, which is rarely found in any of Mac DeMarco’s discography, let alone Rock and Roll Night Club. He has returned to the breathy, deep voice that the EP began with, but throughout the duration of the EP, the instrumentals have remained relatively unchanged. The lyrics describe Mac out on the town, with a “fresh pack of ‘roys.” (Mac DeMarco is known for being a heavy smoker, and Viceroys are his favorite cigarettes.) He claims that he is a man now, and he can do what he wants, wearing baggy 501s, smoking, and looking for women. 

The final track, “Me and Mine,” features Mac’s higher, more defining voice, and has a bit more of a grittier sound to it. With distorted rhythm guitar and high, wailing lead riffs, the EP closes on a slightly different sound than it began. Through the lyrics Mac DeMarco describes a love where through each other, everything will be okay as long as they are together, as he says, “Me and mine we’ll be alright / Long as she’s standing at my side / Long as she’s loving me / Mine and me we’ll be unified.”

In 2012, indie music was very much unlike what it is today. Dominated by the electronic-pop sounds pioneered by artists like Grimes, MGMT, Frank Ocean, Passion Pit, and Beach House, Mac DeMarco was doing something completely different from what was being listened to at the time. By creating an album recorded on cassette tapes in his apartment, Rock and Roll Night Club has a grimey, dirty feeling to it, completely contrasting the bright, loud, busy sounds that were the norm. This album sounds like it has been listened to hundreds of times, and Mac is simply introducing us to something that he has loved for years. 

Since the beginning of this ride, we have seen what Mac DeMarco can do through a decade of development, growth, and art. His lyricism has seen great improvement, and that lazy, slow, almost creepy sound has stayed with DeMarco through it all. Mac DeMarco is known for his fondness for the out-of-tune, the off-beat, and the imperfect. He never wants his songs to sound perfect, but always a little bit off, as this adds to the sort of dirty, icky, feeling Mac tries to portray through his music, performances, and personality. His voice, leaning over the edge of unpleasantness, makes his music painfully interesting to listen to. Recorded into a portable cassette player, Rock and Roll night club sounds like something that has been listened to hundreds of times, and Mac DeMarco is simply showing us something that he loves. 

As the debut of the “Prince of Indie Rock’s” career, Rock and Roll Night Club was the beginning of this great journey that we have been brought on. Mac DeMarco’s trademark techniques, vibrato, heavy reverb, bridge-position electric guitar, and somewhat vague lyrics are some of the defining features of indie music today, appropriated by artists like Dayglow, Clairo, and Steve Lacy. The first time these techniques were all used together to create groovy, gritty, lived-in music was on Rock and Roll Night Club. What a ride it has been over the last ten years, and Mac DeMarco will continue to bring us to new, exciting places. 

Jackson Wezeman is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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