The saloon double doors swing open in a haze of smoke, and in walks a ponchoed figure with a flat cap and scuffed pair of dunlops. As he saunters in, a gap-toothed grin creases beneath the North-Face-veiled visage and your pangs are momentarily assuaged. He sits down beside you, and with a wry smile leans over, pauses, and whispers “Hey dog, this world’s messed up…. I’m trying to reconcile my experience of fame with being a cowboy, sumptuous blues is on the menu, come and ride with me?”. With a heavy heart I declined his offer.
That’s right, if that opening mirage wasn’t clear enough, Mac DeMarco has returned with his sixth full length LP, and its more cowpat then cowboy. Following on from 2017’s stripped-back “This Old Dog”, “Here Comes The Cowboy” reacquaints us with that minimalist approach and gives us another glimpse into Mac’s discords within himself and with the world around him. The result is a complete mishmash.
We begin with a loping, looped electric guitar melody over which Mac utters the words “Here Comes The Cowboy” in a laconic drawl. The phrase is then repeated, repeated and repeated…. With my focus quickly drifting into what brand of off-white paint was adorning the ceiling, it was a relief to hear the opening give way to a robust handful of songs. “Nobody” is a brooding waltz through the dehumanising nature of fame and the difficulty in escaping back to anonymity. The sombre mood is quickly dispelled with the sultry groove of “Finally Alone”, where the cowboy lifestyle begins to materialise as an idealistic form of escape. But, it seems, in this case, that true escape is unattainable.
The pinnacle of this first half, and indeed of the album, took the form of the initially inconspicuous (because it’s one of the few songs on the album you can stomach more than once) “Preoccupied”. The rhythmic dovetailing of the percussion and refrain in the chorus was particularly memorable and served to accentuate Mac’s thoughts. The lyrics are an illustration of Mac’s bleak view of the current time, people distracted from true virtues and their willingness to broadcast it – a swipe at social media perhaps. It was a poignant moment; the nature of the lyrics was a marked departure from his usual exploits. However, this intrigue dispersed all too swiftly with the bizarre funk number “Choo-Choo” followed by two all too familiar love ballads which brought the album’s initial swagger to an absolute standstill. Sadly, the remaining songs did not inspire the same feeling as their predecessors. Peculiar choices such as the protracted crooning on “Skyless Moon” and the maddening screeches of the outro on “Baby Bye Bye” lay waste to what had seemed initially so promising.
Within “Here Comes The Cowboy” there are vital signs of a brilliant album desperate to burst out and win us over with its western-inflected charm and minimalist arrangements, however it is muffled by the mind-numbingly ponderous decisions which punctuate the record. Apart from the aforementioned highlights, the album feels like a disjointed amalgamation of palatable tracks and ideas best left on voice memos. With that said, let us hope this is just a mere bump in the road and a return to the auspicious trajectory laid down by “This Old Dog” can be resumed.