For the past near-decade, the indie world has been afflicted with the “post-Mac DeMarco malady.” DeMarco, a goofball from Edmonton, has been one of the most weirdly influential artists in recent times, popularizing a distinctive blend of jazzy guitar, lightly funky bass lines and laid-back good vibes. It seems people of all stripes can’t resist the urge to pull on a Carhartt outfit, plug in a chorus pedal, muffle their drums with some tea towels and go to town.
Not that it’s always a bad thing, but for a long time people have been latching onto the watery, chill, bedroom pop style and using the aesthetic to cover up lazy songwriting. It’s refreshing to hear something good in this tired idiom for once. Niall Mutter, through the power of being a smart songwriter, has done just that on his new EP, Pass Me By.
The opening track “Maybe” is carried by a 6/8 groove and a smirking, throwback chorus that bring a distinct ’50s vibe to the song, as well as some very smart hooks, like when the flighty verses give way to a sharp, catchy pre-chorus, building perfect momentum into the dreamy chorus.
The second track, “A Love That Fits,” has a sort of ’60s soul thing going on, with some falsetto background vocals and an occasionally silly soul affectation in Mutter’s voice. What makes the track is a clever piano melody in the place of the hook, fitting into the simple groove perfectly and working as a counterpoint to the otherwise watery production.
“I Wonder” is a low point, as Mutter drowns in the DeMarco sauce a little bit. It’s not a bad song — just forgettable, low in energy and a bit too derivative in its sound to escape the curse of having a weak hook. “You,” however, is an improvement, built around a tight funk groove that falls apart a couple of times for a pretty little guitar break. The closing title track is another sweet throwback ballad in 6/8 with a clear Everly Brothers influence, ending the project on a high note.
Overall, Niall Mutter has delivered a solid collection of guitar pop songs, largely quite catchy and well-crafted, despite their derivative sound and basic lyrical content.