Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: Captured Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
If Mac DeMarco has basically become synonymous with the word "chill," his third full-length record ought to earn him a mugshot next to the dictionary definition. While it fits right in with the Canadian's catalogue of lazy summer-day tunes, This Old Dog has some new tricks. With a fresh approach and a renewed outlook on life, DeMarco reaches a whole other level of cool, lush calm as well as an unprecedented degree of maturity and introspection. Wielding an acoustic guitar for the first time, DeMarco's strumming is simple and soft while warm, warbly keyboards fill the remaining space with a breezy, carefree atmosphere.
To even the most casual Mac DeMarco listeners, it shouldn't be hard to tell that the man is a skilled songwriter. From his days with Makeout Videotape to present, the 27-year-old has written more than his fair share of quality tunes, from 'Island Groovies' (one of the best songs released in the last 10 years, in my opinion) to 'Chamber Of Reflection'. But if it shouldn't be hard to tell that DeMarco is a highly talented songwriter, a lot of people seem to have missed it.
T he LA-based singer-songwriter steps away from his Beavis and Butthead onstage persona to make a thoughtful, tender and musically tight third album. DeMarco has always worn his talent lightly, but finally he sounds focused, reflecting on relationships like a millennial Cat Stevens, particularly those with his absent father and his long-term girlfriend. The 27-year-old still sings in languid, unadorned tones over the sun-dappled disco shuffle of For the First Time, but there's a growing awareness of his own agency.
The word 'wackiness' is rarely used positively. If someone is labelled wacky they are, at best, slightly irritating or, more often than not, painfully try-hard. Mac DeMarco has trod the fine line of wackiness throughout his five-year-career. His musical output has been consistently amazing, from meek beginnings on 2, to 2015's rather sombre, almost nostalgic, Another One EP.
When you have a track record of putting drumsticks up your bum, wearing Michael Jackson masks and generally being the most lovable goof in the world, it's hard for people to remember that you don't feel ace all the time. 'This Old Dog' still has whispers of Mac DeMarco's usual chirpy guitar licks and strutting rhythms - but beyond that, it goes deeper and sees our protagonist at his most mellow and introspective. There's no referring to himself as 'Macky', no dicking around with pitch-shifted voiceovers or giving out his home address.
“I’m not old, I’m a kid. If I feel old now, I don’t know how the hell I’m going to feel when I’m really old ... that will be strange.” —Mac DeMarco (Billboard, 3 May 2017) There are some that can’t handle Mac DeMarco’s antics. From dressing up full-hick for his Coachella interview (which was doubly funny given he’s an Edmonton native) to his live concerts known for having auto-dealership tube men and various states of undress, DeMarco’s friendly, party-loving image is one that seems to imply that he doesn’t take his gig seriously, that his outside persona should be just as disposable as the music he creates.
When it comes to his relationship with his father, Mac DeMarco has decided not to sit on the fence: "He's kind of a piece of shit," was one recent verdict on the man who walked out on him when he was four. But his musical take on their relationship - which dominates his third full-length album - is more nuanced. Opening track My Old Man expresses his growing fear, over acoustic guitar and reverb-drenched organ, of seeing his dad when he looks in the mirror.
Following a move to California and a breather from several years of near-constant touring, indie hero Mac DeMarco emerges with This Old Dog, his third full-length and proper follow-up to 2014's breakout LP Salad Days. More lyrically introspective than previous DeMarco releases, the hallmarks of his now-signature sound are all still here, albeit with subtle shifts in emphasis. The heavily chorused guitar riffs, laid-back drum grooves, and off-kilter soft rock transmutations from his first two LPs mesh with the wobbly synth textures that came to the fore on 2015's excellent mini-album, Another One.
From the outside, Mac DeMarco has always been nothing but a baseball cap-donning, gap-toothed prankster. Prone to fart jokes and wacky, ironic Coldplay covers in the middle of one of his shows, the 27-year-old seems like someone who'd rather poke fun at himself than take life seriously. This first impression, however, ignores the sweet, sentimental side of his records, a side that threatens to swallow whole his third album 'This Old Dog'.
After four albums (two "mini", but still rich pickings) in five years, known quantities of mellow gold melody and non-specific heartache might be expected from singer/ songwriter Mac DeMarco's fifth. Yet if track-titles such as One More Love Song imply as much, others - A Wolf Who Wears Sheep's Clothes, Moonlight On The River - direct us below-surface, where teeth gnaw and tides of feeling tug at his lambently pretty confessionals. What DeMarco draws from tensions between surface and subtext is an album of exquisitely, tenderly aching self-reflection, the slacker-dude front anchored in nuanced takes on dreams lost, disappointment, transience, romantic failings and family legacy.
The thing people love about Mac DeMarco is also the thing people hate about Mac DeMarco. To fans, he's a decidedly unpretentious singer-songwriter with a wacky sense of humor. His extracurricular gross-out antics--getting naked in videos, sticking a drumstick up his ass onstage--are evidence that he doesn't take himself or the world too seriously, and is someone who rightly thinks rock music has room for the fun and silly.
After all, the happy-go-lucky, 'No Problem' attitude diffuses from the 26-year-old like the smoke from his Viceroy, and his fun slacker-pop back catalogue reflects this; cliche or not, Mac DeMarco is perfect for sleepy mornings, sunny afternoons and hazy evenings. But look beyond the jolly jangling that hits first for a moment and the anxieties of a thoughtful and earnest young man show themselves clearly but calmly. They were perhaps most visible in his 2014 sophomore Salad Days.
At 26 years old Mac DeMarco is a far cry from an old dog. But with his third full-length album he's sounding older and wiser, containing his cadence, cutting the crusts off, his voice unapologetically and contentedly strolling through the stops in his mind. The image of DeMarco as a gap-toothed goof, a skater kid who seems to somehow have skated right in and out of his own music, is a little harder to envision on This Old Dog.
Despite his unkempt attire, love of fart jokes, and the term most often used to describe his music, Mac DeMarco is anything but a slacker. Since 2012, he has put out two critically acclaimed albums, a less-than-stellar mini-LP, appeared in the upper-middle half of every festival lineup poster, and produced a couple of sweet covers of his heroes (James Taylor and Prince). Despite this massive output, DeMarco still seems to have his credit deflected by his often ridiculous off-stage persona.
"Hopefully make some sense of all this shit before you die," laid-back wiseacre Mac DeMarco advises, like a cross between Bob Dylan and Stephen Malkmus. His third LP ranges from the cheese-synth balladry of "For the First Time" to bedroom-guitar poesy like the forlorn fragment "Sister." DeMarco's weed-y lazy-day croon can be a little too tongue-in-cheek. He's best when he's more earnest, both lyrically and melodically, as on "My Old Man," a sweet shoulder shrug toward the harsh reality of turning into your dad.
Mac DeMarco's reputation precedes him; these days he's almost known more for his quirky banter than his off-colour jangle pop. But while the Canadian appears as untroubled as ever - just look at his Instagram - the decidely more acoustic and stripped-back approach he takes on This Old Dog suggests time may be catching up with him. The tunes here are wistful and sobering, indicative of a man at odds with the boyish persona that has followed him to fame.
Not that he'll ever admit it, but Mac DeMarco wants you to take him seriously. At 42 minutes and some change, 'This Old Dog' is not only the part-time prankster's longest and most acoustically-powered record, it's a shining testament to his evolution as a songwriter -- Mac confronts a trove of acutely personal burdens here, namely the troubled relationship with his estranged father. Also on the menu are matters of the heart.
By this time next month, one thousand publications will have run one thousand more articles reiterating what a chill, happy, generally gnarly dude Mac DeMarco is. Over the last few years, DeMarco's success has been abetted by his loosey-goosey character and appetite for activity, strengths in an era where artists show less personality than ever, and where websites are always in need of material to fuel traffic. So Mac will cover Limp Bizkit in concert, eat hot wings on camera, get interviewed by his mom, troll his bandmates with a billboard–all of these experiences fun, engaging, and above all, consumable.