Alex Riggs (she/they) is a musician/writer and CEO/Mayor of Horse Complex Records in Durham, NC. She used to make music as Al Riggs and now makes it as Riggings, and her writing has appeared in Chatham Life and Style, Aquarium Drunkard, the Shfl, and Talkhouse. If you get mad at her please look at the attached photo and know this is who you’re getting mad at.
I’m in Bushwick, New York City. I’m visiting two wonderful transsexual women musicians, and eating lunch at a diner where I spend too long deciding what to get before eventually settling on “2 Hot Dogs.” I’m scrolling through Twitter and see an article by Exclaim! reporting that at midnight, Mac Demarco — the enfant terrible of slack-pop — is going to be releasing an album of 199 songs, entitled One Wayne G.
I snort at the hubris of anyone wanting to listen to that much of anything, let alone Mac Demarco, and I tweet a jokey challenge: For $200, I would listen to the entire eight hours and 45 minutes of One Wayne G and write a review, promising an unbiased, honest look at whatever this thing would be. I posted my Venmo link and went back to my hot dogs.
Seven minutes later, Twitter friend and Chicago photographer Soren Spicknall had Venmoed me $200. I erupted in sorrowful laughter, my Catholic guilt ensuring that I would have to earn the money given to me and actually listen to nearly nine hours of mostly instrumental mid-to-low tempo studio noodling from a guy I haven’t liked in maybe a decade.
“Goddammit,” I cried over and over, “no no no no no,” and so on.
The next day, the album dropped. I put on a borrowed trucker cap designed by the queer musician Seán Barna that said “CISSY” on the front, put some sunscreen on my cheeks, put my earbuds in, and pressed play. I walked out the apartment door and began to let this thing soundtrack my entire day in Bushwick.
Mac Demarco has really put out only two albums I like. I’ve warmed up to 2 over the years but if you ask most people where the peak is, it was, of course, 2014’s Salad Days. It features his strongest songwriting, lyrically and musically, and most interesting production choices. Landing square in the “mid-fi” range, it’s woozy but approachable, jammy but incredibly catchy. In the mini-doc about the making of the album, Mac comes across as an endearing home recording nerd, taking the viewer through mixer settings, keyboard delay, and lovingly cribbing the Beauty and The Beast score for the album’s emotional high point, “Let Her Go.”
Since Salad Days, Mac has been working effortlessly to strip away any rockstar sheen from his persona, inviting listeners into the creative process by releasing demo versions of most of his albums (two for the already unfinished sounding Here Comes The Cowboy). All the while putting out records that, on paper, are admirable exercises in keeping everything as low-stakes as humanly possible. Wading through his discography is like slapping on gumboots to take on the Great Dismal Swamp. It’s a massive undertaking in moving as slow as possible with more effort than required from both parties.
And so is One Wayne G, for the most part.
As I walk through the streets of Bushwick, soundtracked by these songs — which btw, are almost all titled with numbers indicating the date they were recorded, and make for a wonderful variety of eye strain after a while — I get the feeling that this music is maybe intended as an ambient piece. Musical wallpaper, etc. I sit down at an outdoor bagel and espresso bar called Mixtape; I have an everything bagel with an over-medium egg and turkey bacon. I take a sip of the double espresso I ordered alongside a Topo Chico and I am floating. Best espresso, best egg sandwich in Bushwick. This is my food recommendation. We now return to the essay.
The album (alternates between three moods: the aforementioned guitar noodling, with occasional Nilsson-esque vocalizing where lyrics should be; excursions into genuinely affecting ambient experimentation; and about a normal album’s worth of solid pop songwriting. That third mood is the most literally surprising — there are random chunks of what feels like a finished song-based record placed throughout the album, like little checkpoints in a marathon. The songs themselves concern the joys in the mundane, simple love songs, my favorite being “She Want The Sandwich,” an ode to dropping everything to get your beloved the sandwich they so desire. Cute! Fine! OK!
As the day wears on, however, the songs start to blend together in a way that I still cannot decipher if it was intentional or not. It doesn’t help that the bpm is constantly hovering around 85-90, the instrumentation seemingly shackled to clean guitars, picky bass, close mic drums, and synths, with very little change throughout. It’s akin to watching a friend’s band jam and jam and jam, being given carte blanche to wander around the house as they continue jamming, giving you a soundtrack to doing your taxes, making a sandwich, doing the dishes, writing your own songs, etc.
It’s here where I’m going to pause and talk about a word that haunts me, because I think the conversation needs to be had, and I feel properly qualified to have it. That word is Prolific.
I’ve been writing and recording music at a steady clip since 2009, using pretty much the same kind of DAW setups the entire time (Garageband 4 Evr, don’t let anyone take it away from you). When I started releasing music in 2011 as Al Riggs, through a now archived Bandcamp page, it was a way to simply get it all out there. I’m terrible at writing diaries, not great at verbal communication with friends, bad at making new friends for that matter. But making and releasing music is my bread and butter. It became a way to publicly grow as an artist, using the provided Bandcamp stat graphs to see what song was being played more often and try and guess why. It allowed me to meet many, many other like-minded artists who saw Bandcamp as a means to become their own label and put things out at their own pace.
The downside to this was being told by multiple people, some of whom were peers, some of whom were friends, that I was often decreasing the “value” of my music the more “prolific” I was. To this day, I don’t think we as a community, as an industry, have a good handle on what the word “value” means. If it’s economic value, then so be it; anyone trying to make money in the music industry these days might as well find a sturdy paper bag to start digging themselves out of. If it’s cultural value, then I’d argue the culture changes between genres. With very little exception (your GBVs, your Segalls) Western Indie Rock Artists are expected to be scarce with their releases, encouraged to do so by their labels, in order to not “flood the market” with material. Why? This is a very good question, thank you for asking it. You do such a good job asking questions I don’t have an answer to.
If you push against the edges of these constraints a bit, into other genres, other timezones, you notice that no one actually seems to give two tin shits about how much you’re releasing. Avant folk, jazz, electronic, noise, rap, punk — really anything that isn’t Minor-Major Indie Rock — is given more freedom to treat the act of releasing music as a blessing, not a constrained, planned, perfectly marketed event that so many records these days are built up to be (oh, is this really your most personal album yet?).
HAVING SAID ALL OF THAT
Why do we bristle when something like One Wayne G is put out into the world? It’s through Mac’s own label, something many of us strive to have. It’s on his own terms. If anything, it’s one of his greatest, most defiant acts as an artist living by his own rules — “Here are 199 songs I made over the past few years, now you do something with them.”
Aside from it being the biggest “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat” album released in some time, its very existence should be applauded as an effort to — here comes a word you are tired of hearing, ready? — disrupt the idea of what is or isn’t the right way to both release and ingest music. I listened to the whole thing in one day — this is Absolutely Not the correct way to tackle it. It’s intended for the dish doing crowd, as noise to have on in the background at a dinner party with friends. It’s inoffensive, pretty, fun to hear.
BUT HAVING SAID ALL OF THAT
I cannot see this thing as the grand artistic achievement I’ve been bullshitting you into thinking it is. It fails as an album for the obvious reasons — it’s unwieldy, too-consistent, unrewarding — but also gives me the creeps when I try to decipher its actual reason for existence. And so I keep coming back to this thing not as a statement of intent, but as a content-dump. And that is super depressing. Not to get all doomsayer near the end here, but there is unfortunately something to the dangerous practice of treating your art like content, pumping it out with seemingly no thought. Treating your incessantly tape-warbled guitar demos as worthy of being heard alongside your more developed material. It’s a dangerous habit that I admit I’ve been guilty of, even recently. I’m trying to get better, to be a little more precious with the things I do work hard on, trying to give it the weight it deserves when it eventually does come out.
This is the tightrope we walk. I hate the term “prolific.” It has been a burden on my career for years. But I’m the only one to really control that getting lobbed at me. And honestly, I’ll take lazy catch-all terms every day if it means I have control over my art. At the end of the day, a major question artists need to sometimes wrestle with is, Who am I making this for? And why?
One Wayne G is the dumping of Content as a refusal to come clean with an actual answer. And yet, I can’t completely fault it for that. Maybe this is what defiance looks like now. I just wish it sounded better.