If Mac DeMarco was to be reincarnated as some form of pooch, it would have to be one of similar nature to a basset hound, lovingly sat prone on the porch contemplating life’s questions at a leisurely, reverb-fuelled pace. Mac DeMarco’s latest album, “This Old Dog”, provides the listener with another pedigree group of songs gloriously put together with breezy, blues inspired guitar and keyboard. This is his third full-length LP, with 2015’s mini-album “Another One” filling in the gaps. At only 27, it is safe to say that Mac has achieved a lot in a short space of time, carving out a niche in the indie-rock space supplemented by an adoring fan base.
On this album however, we find Mac at a philosophical crossroads, behind the goofy, hilarious outer layer there is someone at odds with the relationship he has (or never had) with his father. The lyrics and ideas throughout reflects Macs musings on dealing with the past’s ambitions and dreams in the context of relationships with your loved ones. It is interesting to hear this introspective side of Mac continue its evolution from “Another One”, as it can only be a good sign for things to come.
Not only have the ideas seen a change, the music has too, the nostalgia of the lyrics weaving itself into the inspirations for the sounds. The reverb, tobacco-tinged electric guitar has been cut back in favour of a more stripped-back acoustic sound, complemented by some gripping keyboard leads and accompaniments. Alongside this new-found groove is an exploration into pulling beats from R&B and soul, specifically on tracks like “On the Level” where the drum machine and keyboard parts could easily have been written by someone like the Isley Brothers. Nonetheless, the songs remain unique and distinctly Mac-esque, and this only strengthens his reputation as master of song craftmanship.
In the albums first single “My Old Man”, the texture of repeated acoustic riffs with delicately placed keyboard parts is rich and dainty, and a style which manifests itself throughout the album particularly on the tracks “This Old Dog” and “Still Beating”. Mac is a master of understanding chord changes which work and providing a meandering bass line to accompany them, it’s the same old Mac we hear and refinement certainly hasn’t cost him at all. In the verse and chorus Mac states “There’s a price tag hanging off of having all that fun/ Uh-oh, looks like I’m seeing more of my old man in me”, an ode to having enjoyed a life of too much indulgence, and this all too familiar for Mac who has seen the same degradation take over his father and hence the observation that he is beginning to resemble him. This general theme of disbelief and remorse is also present on “Baby You’re Out “and “Dreams for Yesterday”, which happens to be one of the most lyrically astute songs on the record. They explore the idea that all events leading up to this point, be it in his relationships with his father or beloved Kiki, can’t be changed no matter how hard we try to absolve them through grief or regret, the ticket is to get on with life and stop resting on finished dreams, a quip which ultimately has Mac written all over it.
Other notable highlights on the record include the 60’s inspired grooves of “One Another” and “A Wolf Who Wears Sheep’s Clothes”, with a harmonica making an appearance in the latter, these along with the intoxicating and luscious keyboard leads on “On the Level” and “One More Love Song” contribute to the versatility and diversity portrayed on this album. It is also worth noting the tone of Mac’s voice throughout the album, concentrating on his middle register, it gives more gravitas to the thoughtful content which is on display.
However, the consistency is not all encompassing, tracks like “Sister” feel slightly underwritten, like an interlude which could really have been made into a full-length track and cut out the need to stuff a bit too much psychedelic and aggressive outro into “Moonlight on the River”. One observation I would also make is that on first listen, the album came across as dreary and the slow metronomic swing of each ballad left a little to be desired. This may be a dampener on the dreams of fans who wanted another “2” with more upbeat tempo, happy-go-lucky vibes to the songs. However, this is by no means a criticism of the album, as I believe this new direction complements the more mature content and shows that Mac wants to treat it with the utmost respect.
Overall, this album ranks highly in Mac’s discography, as it has shown a clear progression in a direction that maybe not everyone would have expected. The record retains a significant amount of his personality, not only in the lyrics but in the make-up of the songs as well, and his delicacy and attention to detail can only be applauded. It will be interesting to see the views of other Mac fans on the record, but regardless of that if ever you’re feeling hazy and in need of a thought provoking, winding avenue to get lost in, Mac has made a record full of heart just for you.