Anomalous Canadian songwriter Mac DeMarco showed up in 2012 with Rock and Roll Night Club, a strange little collection of songs that wavered between dark cinematic dreaminess and stoned goofball rock, jumping from yacht rock to tunes that sounded like they could have soundtracked a David Lynch film. Two more filled-out albums followed quickly, 2 and the more produced pop of Salad Days. As DeMarco's discography grew, his tunes felt increasingly breezy. Though never listless, Salad Days in particular took on a pleasantly lazy quality, with a looseness to the tunes that made them feel beamed in directly from Mac's absent-minded daydreams. This easygoing vibe makes the concept of Mac laying down rough demos of the songs seem impossible, but Demos, Vol. 1 reveals aspects of his creative process, collecting lo-fi home-recorded first passes and half-cooked instrumental sketches of the songs that ended up on 2 and Salad Days, along with other various odds and ends. In some cases the demos aren't terrifically far removed from the versions that ended up on the albums. Standout tracks like "Cooking Up Something Good," "Blue Boy," and "Go Easy" are close to their studio counterparts, maybe with a sheen of four-track tape hiss and a slightly more subdued uncertainty to them. Various instrumental fragments are included as well. "Lonely Shredder" eventually got fleshed out and became "Ode to Viceroy," one of the more notable songs on 2. Weird partially realized tunes like "Avocado Andrew" and "Pepperoni Playboy" didn't quite make it onto Salad Days, but highlight DeMarco's chorus-drenched guitar playing and also a growing use of vintage synthesizers that was developing at the time of these demos. A strong Kinks influence guides many of the Salad Days demos, especially on its title track, the demo of which features a plodding drum machine beat and exorbitant delay on the backing vocals. Demos, Vol. 1 is a fantastic look into the songwriter's laid-back writing process, with each song feeling tossed-off and lighthearted. Some of the results are far more enjoyable than others, but such is the nature of the low-key demo. Even someone like DeMarco, who makes it look easy all the time, occasionally has to return to the drawing board.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas