By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)
It’s easy to forget the dual nature of Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco: the smoking-like-a-chimney, drumstick in the ass quirky man-child has accumulated quite the fanbase over the duration of his career, falling in love with his smooth attempts at slacker rock, grated over with that trademark ape dinky charm. That’s not to insinuate that DeMarco has never crafted a serious track in his life, the underrated mini-album Another One explored love from multiple perspectives and Salad Days‘ emotive little gem ‘Let My Baby Stay‘ was a standout upon its release, but this mature songwriting always seems to be overshadowed by either some of his more experimental work or eccentric online and irl persona.
On this topic of sensible songwriting, Mac seems to be finally setting into adulthood having just turned 27 last month, something he approached in classic fashion by announcing he was gonna be a father which shocked his now internet icon mother Agnes. Hell, he’s already bought his first house, a necessity after sharing his address at the end of My House By The Water (“a couple thousand people came to visit: we made a lot of coffee”).With this all in mind, it’s no surprise that fourth LP This Old Dog is his most mature to date, allowing some serious lyricism and songwriting to shine through, making for what is arguably his best work yet.
Don’t fret about having another white guy making another half-arsed political album about why Trump is bad and technology = not good though. As you’d expect from a slacker rock champion, DeMarco doesn’t really fret about this kind of area, not because he doesn’t care but because he doesn’t want to stick his nose in where it doesn’t belong. After all, we’re talking about the same guy who, after being asked about the fear of nuclear war, replied with “hopefully nuclear war doesn’t happen, that would really blow ass“, the closest we’ll ever get to a political opinion from the jizz-jazz pioneer.
Instead of looking outwards, Mac keeps his focus on himself and those around him which leads to some of the darkest subject matter he’s ever covered. With the album being lead by a single titled ‘My Old Man‘, it’s no surprise that This Old Dog touches on the topic of fatherhood though more the lack thereof. It’s so subtle though that you’d be forgiven for not realising it sooner though: on the aforementioned opener, our 20-a-day protagonist strums away while nervously observing that “I’m seeing more of my old man in me”, preceded by an uh oh which makes far more sense when you’re made aware that his dad was an alcoholic and addict of whom he knows very little about. My Old Man manages to scope out two vistas of the DeMarco music landscape, the “cracking a cold one with the boys” sunshine relaxing and the introspective mesmerisation, and merge them both together seamlessly.
This narrative comes to its conclusion on, well, the conlcluding track ‘Watching Him Fade Away’, a far more on the nose single which is the most stripped back song both in terms of instrumentals and subtlety: DeMarco has said this would be his equivalent of an acoustic album but lone synthesised pianos fuel this track, leaving the lyrics to fully shine and steal the spotlight. Weirdly enough though, Mac never gets truly soppy on this subject, outright saying “the thought of him no longer being around, well, sure it would be sad but not really different“. It would be easy enough to make some cheesy farewell to his father but with the album either exploring his actions, like on ‘Moonlight On The River’, or ones similar via Mac‘s stories, the heartache of ‘Still Beating‘, it thematically makes more sense to wrap the album up with a shrug of the shoulders rather than a grandiose weeping song.
There’s more to This Old Dog than just being torn apart about being sad or indifferent to a parent dying. Via the trodden father route, DeMarco manages to explore this quarter-life style crisis, worrying about the present and future when having his focus shifted at the past: he may be a goofy character but This Old Dog sees Mac become very harsh with himself, criticising his appearance via the third person and comparing himself to someone he politely described as being “a piece of shit”.
The shortest track on the whole album yet possibly the most moving, Sister is another minamilstic song though one that acts as more of a tribute, in this case for Mac‘s half-sister Holly. Whether it be the seemingly intentionally eerie strumming or the emotion christened opening lines of “turns out not every dog has his day”, the track helps bring out a dark side to Mac‘s music that has always been brewing but has now been made fit for consumption.
Anyone who hasn’t been able to get on board with the acoustic musings of Canada’s sweetheart will probably not be converted: many of the foundations that DeMarco has built since 2 are still in sight though much of what’s been built on them are precisely built albeit bare in design. For an album solely lead, recorded and engineered by one man, This Old Dog does enough sonically to keep interest peaked though thematically and lyrically is where it shines. It’s still very much the same stoner demeanor that has made Mac such a star but covering more serious themes allows him to keep both camps satisfied.
It could soundtrack another alcohol fueled campfire gathering with some of its trademark stylings, just don’t be surprised if you end up a bit existential.
Favourite album so far, Mac is back! Really love it and will be recommending it to lots! 8/10 – Will Sexton (@willshesleeps)
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