'This Old Dog' trades accessibility for introspection

Mac DeMarco embraces life with searing self-analysis

aemacdemparcocourtesybandcamp

Mac DeMarco's latest release, "This Old Dog" highlights the artist's more mature side.

Courtesy Bandcamp

No more phasey, reverbed guitar on every track. No more odes to smoking cigarettes. No more spontaneously losing drumsticks. In his newest album, “This Old Dog,” Mac DeMarco takes a step forward by looking backward.

Some love DeMarco for the same reasons others hate him — his lackadaisical attitude mixed with his quirky behavior and offbeat indie tunes make him appear to be from a different era, like a vagabond hippie travelling through time in a rusty Ford Bronco from the 1970s.

The self-proclaimed Pepperoni Playboy garnered critical acclaim for his ability to single-handedly compose, record and produce catchy yet unique and sonically-identifiable music. However, by maintaining such a specific sonic pallet, DeMarco often limits his sounds to one portion of the aural spectra.

The musical component of “This Old Dog” tones down the electric guitar in favor of acoustic jams and synthesized leads. Apart from “Moonlight on the River,” an emotional ballad and standout track, most songs follow a fairly simple structure — which unfortunately makes parts of the album meld into each other and become forgettable.

The album opens with “My Old Man,” which discusses growing older and seeing similarities between himself and his father. What makes the lyrics of this track particularly interesting is the fact that DeMarco’s father walked in and out of his life since early childhood.

Musically, the song sets the tone for the rest of the album — introspective and wistful.

Each track on the album finds Demarco analyzing his past and current emotions with a James Taylor-esque delivery and guitar. While nothing on this album is innovative for DeMarco or music in general, the songs provide a refined and cohesive sound. Moreover, this album begs to be listened to as an indivisible project in which the preceding song influences and adds to the next.

If previous albums “Salad Days” and “2” feel like a warm summer day at the lake, “This Old Dog” feels like meeting with childhood friends at night and reminiscing on what used to be. For this reason, DeMarco trades the more accessible, goofy and cheerful aspect of his music in an effort to introduce more meditation, melancholia and nostalgia.

DeMarco works within tight parameters on this album and therefore is able to make good use of subtlety to add variety to his songs. The lo-fi mixing on “Sister” gives the track a feeling of timelessness, and the addition of a clave-type beat on “Dreams from Yesterday” evokes imagery of spending time in an old Spanish cantina.

As demonstrated by many songs on this project, DeMarco takes a singer-songwriter approach to song composition. He then paints the soundscape with various kitsch synthesizers to create his signature sound. This tried-and-true method is effective on tracks like “One Another,” but becomes annoyingly predictable on songs like “For the First Time” — which sounds like a “Chamber of Reflection” B-side.

The climax of the album occurs on the song “Moonlight on the River,” where DeMarco casually sings, “I'm home, with moonlight on the river, saying my goodbyes / I'm home, there's moonlight on the river, everybody dies.” After DeMarco describes his journey down what feels like the river Styx, the urge to shed the past after a long period of contemplation is only amplified by the reverbed guitar experimentation and vocal samples at the end of the song. The final track, “Watching Him Fade Away,” closes the album with a sense of finality as DeMarco bids farewell to his former self.

Fans should go into this album expecting to listen to it from top-to-bottom. “This Old Dog” is more a single chapter than an entire book, and therefore should be treated as such.
This project shows increased lyrical maturity and a musical subtlety that is sometimes flawed by predictability and lack of sonic diversity.

What exactly will come next from DeMarco is uncertain. However, there is no doubt that DeMarco has become a more mature artist with this release. 

related stories