CHAMBER OF REFLECTION: Mac DeMarco & Japanese Jazz
by Kate Leib on April 18, 2014
Posted in: Eclectic, Electronic, Hip Hop, Jazz, Music, Rock
Thumbs up if you’re here because of Mac Demarco
A slacker sweetheart in his songs and a grimy goofball on stage, the 23 year-old Mac DeMarco is hard to dislike. Within the first lines of his latest album, Salad Days, DeMarco carelessly throws around the idea of mortality as as one might discard a dirty sock; “rolling through life, you roll over and die.” DeMarco then tosses a few more “la-la-la la-las” onto the pile of dirty laundry and floats by for the rest of the album on alternating waves of humor, loneliness, love, melancholy and light-hearted bliss. So crack open a window, let the warm air rush in, and put Salad Days on repeat, because it could be the soundtrack to your spring.
I could gush to you about sunshine, slackers, springtime, and salad for days, and you could post up on Proctor Terrace, pop a benadryl, and watch the mid-april snow melt off as quickly as it came. But I won’t, because we would both end up feeling warm, tired, and bored. Let’s talk about jizz-jazz instead.
In just about every review of Salad Days that I’ve read, critics agreed on “Chamber of Reflection”, as one of the standout tracks, and they aren’t wrong. The song plays out like a haunted carnival on a hot summer night, with DeMarco repeating the phrase “Alone, again” over the slow, saccharine drone of distorted organs. However the song is touted as DeMarco’s “largest and most apparent step forward”, and his “most atmospheric exploration yet”, pigeonholing the track as a deliberate demarcation from the rest of his discography. Contrary to what critics might say, in the context of DeMarco’s past two releases, “Chamber of Reflection”, along with the rest of Salad Days, is not so much an uncharted exploration as it is a refined introspection–a reflective and thoughtful step back more than an unprecedented step forward. And beyond DeMarco’s evident maturation, this track is nothing new.
I happened to find myself stumbling backwards with Mac DeMarco a few weeks ago, when I came across a Youtube comment claiming that “Chamber of Reflection” had blatantly ripped off another song 30 years its senior. Suddenly, Slacker Mac, idealized patron saint (er sinner) of slacking off, flashed before my eyes in a different light. Was he too lazy to write something original? In one click I was watching a Youtube video titled: “ザ・ワードⅡ / セキトウ・シゲオ.” The melody was almost identical to the one that drives “Chamber of Reflection,” if not more complex with its jazzy improvisations and shimmering layers of sound. The song, which is known (or, rather unknown) in English as “The Word II,” is by Shigeo Siketo, a Japanese musician who reached his peak fame in the 1970s. His instrument of choice, the Electone, is a brand of electronic organ that was produced and made popular during Japan’s Yamaha Dynasty (1960-1980 AD), and was a precursor to the modern synthesizer Mac DeMarco uses on “Chamber of Reflection.”
Lack of exposure and scant information available suggest that Sekito’s legacy was short-lived beyond his most devoted fans in Japan. That is, until DeMarco dusted off the electone books of old to further promote his self-proclaimed “jizz-jazz” sound. When asked in an interview about the song, DeMarco mumbles about the it being some kind of reimagination, but he has yet to give outright credit to Sekito for the melody. We can cast off critical remarks at DeMarco for being a lazy knock-off, or we can appreciate his sneaky antics as a smart and unexpected segue into an obscure genre buried in time, as one might do with a sample in a hip-hop track. As a Mac DeMarco fan, I’m inclined to do the latter.
Mac DeMarco – Chamber of Reflection
Shigeo Sekito – ザ・ワードⅡ / セキトウ・シゲオ (the word II)
Kate Leib is WRMC’s social media manager. She co-hosts “Sweet ‘n Lo-Fi” Thursday nights, 8-10 on WRMC.