Canadian indie-hero Mac DeMarco - now based in Brooklyn, of course - steps up the must-hear list with his second full-length album, Salad Days, in which the 23-year-old singer-songwriter gets sort-of serious on songs like "Chamber of Reflection." Balancing cheesy yacht-rock levity with staring-into-the-abyss blues, DeMarco - who was born with the name Vernor Winfield McBriare Smith IV - always sounds chill and semi-ironic, not unlike Stephen Malkmus, with whom, along with Jonathan Richman and Harry Nilsson, he is often compared. It's unclear from Salad Days whether DeMarco cares enough ever to be a great songwriter, but just breezing by on his talent, he's already a good one.
- Dan DeLuca
His real name is Jonny Wickersham, and his day job is guitarist for Social Distortion, the great Southern California punk band. Jonny Two Bags' solo debut, Salvation Town, is a roots-rocking gem that might sound like a bit of a departure until you learn that his earliest influences included his fellow Southern Californians, the Blasters and Los Lobos. In fact, David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos guest on the album, along with such other notables as Jackson Browne and David Lindley. What ultimately makes the album so compelling, though, are the songs. Whether rocking out like the anthemic "One Foot in the Gutter" and the defiant "Forlorn Walls," or slowing down for the Spanish-flavored atmospherics of "Avenues" and the country-soul melancholy of "Alone Tonight," they burn with a gut-level verisimilitude that establishes this sideman as a formidable new voice in his own right.
- Nick Cristiano
In Animal Collective, Avey Tare provides the sing-song staccato melodies and the whoops and yells that contrast with Panda Bear's ethereal vocal lines and soaring harmonies. The man also known as Dave Portner brings that playfulness to his current solo project, Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks. Along with keyboardist Angel Deradoorian (formerly of the Dirty Projectors) and drummer Jeremy Hyman (formerly of Ponytail), guitarist Portner creates a psychedelic swirl both lighthearted and extreme (not unlike the B-movie genre that inspired the band's name). Their CD Enter the Slasher House ranges from the slippery, joyful single "Little Fang" to the distorted, abrasive "That It Won't Grow" to the frenetic, percussive "Blind Babe." The album is full of dense and noisy songs that clatter and crash, anchored by fragmented but ultimately catchy melodies, and it sounds like it will be exciting live at Johnny Brenda's on Thursday.
- Steve Klinge