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. DeMarco meditates on the viability of sustained romance on the stripped-down placidity of the title track, while ‘For the First Time’ bursts out of the gate with shimmering keys and more thoughts on the revolving door of emotions endemic in anyone ensnared by the web of a long-term lover.
Mac then saves some of his most confessional writing for ‘Still Beating’, where a skyscraping guitar riff pivots atop an infectious refrain: “Honey, I cried too, you better believe it / Honey, my heart still beats for you, even though you don’t feel it”.
As always, the recent LA transplant paints himself as a master of universal themes, blurting out tongue-in-cheek platitudes and amorous buzzwords that spin together narratives with enough breadth and cathartic potency to strike a chord in just about anybody. Look back at ‘Salad Days’ and the mini LP ‘Another One’ and it’s plain to see that DeMarco is well capable of writing damn near perfect pop songs, so much so that at times he’s practically resorted to disowning them. The informally-released instrumental barbeque soundtrack ‘Some Other Ones’ was loaded with titles like ‘Little Pepper’, ‘Onion Man’, and ‘Young Coconut’, which to be fair, assemble a formidable trio of savoury synth cuts that don’t lack in quality what they lack for vocals.
It’s these kinds of whimsical antics that reflect DeMarco’s frequent tendency to devolve into a full-blown goofball caricature of himself, a quirk which clashes against the backdrop of the weighty subject matter he tends to take on in his music. Away from the prying eyes of the public, the self-described ‘jizz jazzer’ boasts a personality that’s equal parts self-aware and intriguingly complex, making what’s actually going on inside his head deceptively hard to put a finger on.
True to his unpredictable nature, DeMarco does in fact spring a few surprises on ‘This Old Dog’ — a harmonica blankets the soft-rock saunter of ‘A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes’, and the languid ‘Dreams From Yesterday’ lilts in a bossa nova melancholy. High credit is further due for the strutting synth cut ’On the Level’, as well as the seven-minute epic ‘Moonlight on the River’, which glides before cannibalising itself in a fit of horror-movie howls and apocalyptic feedback.
Still, it’s the brief and beautiful swirling of ‘Sister’, not to mention the two tracks which bookend the record — ‘My Old Man’ and ‘Watching Him Fade Away’ — where Mac really makes his mark, confronting an arresting reality we all seem to shudder at the thought of: turning out just like our parents, often in spite of ourselves.
For all the substance and appeal of his previous work, nothing quite stacks up to what DeMarco has generated here, on what is an album that demonstrates just how far his ambitions lie beyond simply churning out effervescent pop numbers. Intimate and endearingly honest, ‘This Old Dog’ is Mac DeMarco’s most essential chapter of slacker gospel yet.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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