Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

Since his early records, the works of Mac DeMarco have felt consistent with fuzzy wistfulness, a non-embarrassing clarity of writing that can plausibly resonate with all (love, worry, cigarettes, mums). It lulls and flows, often without the prickly critical eye that might appeal to his largely millennial audience in present political times. Any moderately committed listener may well have caught wind of his online presence, where the man is for the most part a japester, quipping sharply with an irony that occasionally spills over into his lyrics (I smell your arts degree/ It’s telling me I’m lazy’) and that proves he’s one of us. He sings openly and persistently about self-doubt and desire regarding A Woman, whilst his girlfriend Kiki is steadfastly part of his related social media. Alongside his friends, we see his day-to-day hoots, double chins and all. The man behind the operation (not to mention his merry men) is hard not to like, at once definitely in the music whilst wholly aware of the jokes.

It’s almost two years since I lived and breathed his trademark sound whilst in an opiate haze. Listening sessions proved both dream-inducing and dream-compatible, easily digestible even with moments of more skittish guitar. Extensive exposure to 2, Salad Days and Rock and Roll Night Club felt easy, the straightforwardness of his song structures and breeziness of voice welcome in a bout of dim health. It was during this foray that the 2015 mini-LP Another One dropped and presented variously-angled musings on love. It maintains an earnestness throughout, right down to the cover image of a crouching DeMarco in a fisherman style getup, and feels contained in the way you might expect from a record made at home. If videos of him are correct, he has the knowhow to make the magic – and sometimes the synth does make it feel like actual magic – in small spaces, mostly off his own back.

And so falls This Old Dog into something of a DeMarco brand (which, if lackadaisical on the face of it, must actually stand for good musical insight and craft). As one who pines for synthesisers in all the right and wrong places, this record ticks an exciting box. For all its heightened acoustic focus, the synth is part of the brickwork in a bigger way than his previous output, lightly integrated across the board but also flagrantly hooky and siren-like in standout track ‘On The Level’. The cover art for once is not a humorous shot of Mac himself but a bundle of doodles, which I am tempted to call teenage in light of the family-centric slant to the material.

Opener ‘My Old Man’ and closing track ‘Watching Him Fade Away’ thoughtfully detail two kinds of detachment from fathers: the uncanniness when looking in the mirror and seeing your dad; the weird convergences of different types of fatherly loss (estrangement and death). The former track has the hallmarks of a TV show title song, where the ‘uh-ohs’ would be suitably indicative of a central narrative concern e.g. ageing when you’re nearing thirty. The latter track is less poppy, more sincerely hurt-filled, with similar stillness to 2’s outro ‘Still Together’ but with less climactic cooing at the end. Compare with 2’s Freaking Out The Neighborhood’ – a bright apologetic address to his mother – and the framing tracks of This Old Dog are less direct, DeMarco appearing to question himself. ‘Sister’, on the other hand, is a nippy ode with a hint of Ariel Pink that makes me feel like sitting at my Gran’s house with its weird carpets and cluttered piles of nostalgic family items. It’s short with a four chord monopattern that rolls nicely into ‘Dreams From Yesterday’, a track which casts my mind to Lewis’s 1983 L’Amour and to other DeMarco tracks that rotate around dreams (see Dreaming, ‘The Way You’d Love Her). ‘Baby You’re Out’ and ‘One Another’ – crucially not Another One– are upbeat and plucky; not dissimilar is ‘A Wolf Who Wears Sheep’s Clothes’, with added harmonica licks and guitar riffing after the refrain. ‘For The First Time’ and ‘On The Level’  have an eighties gloss, the latter perfectly paced with slight, low hisses and a hunky bassline. ‘One More Love Song’ is borderline RnB, with the mood of a Sade or later George Michael track, sultry in the verse and wanting in the chorus thanks to the keys. The longest track on the album, the penultimate ‘Moonlight in the River’, is deceptively placid whilst grappling with some tough lyrical content, leaning into a stoic refrain that pauses on mortality, progressing into crackles, wahs and delays down the line.

Beneath the shimmers of almost all DeMarco songs there is great capacity for poignancy. This album is the tightest of his slack-rock approach, and all the fresher for its acousticness though quite calm rhythmically. As with other albums there is still nonetheless a cosiness for any given fan, though less sitting around the fire material, more sitting pensively by the lake (or canal, river – whatever is to hand). The fact that DeMarco moved to the West Coast from New York over the course of the making and release of the material makes it easy and perhaps lazy to suggest there is something transitional about This Old Dog. In lieu of narrativising the process, it serves to say that the record shows a subtle new diversity between its tracks whilst retaining if not enhancing the best bits of his previous work: cheery melancholy, accessibility, catchiness and – though critical theory might hound me for saying so – fragments of the author himself.

Release Date 5th May 2017 (Captured Tracks)

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Hannah Ross

Hummer and strummer with Kurt Vile hair. Likes neo-soul, reverb, and most things put out by Beggars. Will review for money and/or free tickets + exciting new music.