In 2012, a reviewer noted that “My Kind of Woman,” one of Mac DeMarco’s most watched YouTube videos, was, at the time, his only song that sounded complete. Now in 2017, DeMarco seems to have found the sureness that some of his earlier singles hinted at on “This Old Dog,” his fourth studio album from indie powerhouse record label Captured Tracks.
For DeMarco, it has always been about his lazy performance coupled with his technical nuance. His voice sags and sways effortlessly to every song like those rare teenagers who are cool without trying. Yet, on this album, he uses his trademark laissez-faire attitude to deliver lyrics wrought with reflection.
“One More Love Song” is sophisticated and sexy, with DeMarco’s bedroom voice delivering sensual lyrics over some synthed up vintage R&B. A jam about how ephemeral love and love songs can be; it seduces you then the album floats on. Unlike “For the First Time” which pulls at the first moments falling in love, its sweet synth much like “Stranger Things” is akin to the innocence of a first love’s first times.
At just over seven minutes, a deep dive into DeMarco’s psyche “Moonlight on The River” dazzlingly disintegrates. There is love, memory and nostalgia shown again on tracks like “Dreams of Yesterday” coupled with the pressure of expectation that all children can put on themselves in timeless jams like “On the Level.”
The album’s cover art even feels like a drawing made at summer camp. Its yearnings like the moment a child looks up at their parents holding the drawing; searching their faces for approval and affirmations.
The first singles he let out in preparation for his May 5 release included the title track and another bluntly beautiful “My Old Man.” Each felt like conversations with his father (or himself) over a cup of coffee—bittersweet.
“My Old Man,” the first song, is beachy and clean. He sings of facing his own mortality, and contemplates the truism that in the end we all become our parents—it’s DeMarco at his best. The track reflects the album as a whole, as it’s mostly DeMarco’s confrontation with the complex relationships he has with own distant father as well as his family and at times his fame. His father was ill at the production stage of this album and that led to a closing track that is nothing short of honest in “Watching Him Fade Away.”
One of DeMarco’s most heartfelt tracks is “Sister,” despite its short length. The median track on DeMarco’s sleeper is completely awake: the lyrics are clear, and the longing is real.
DeMarco has long mixed in his goofy and more successful teenage boy tracks like “Salad Days” and “Passing Out Pieces,” with serious anti-ballads like “My Kind Of Woman” and the stunning “Blue Boy.” This album is a natural progression from these songs, though much like his previous albums, beyond the four singles he released earlier, the rest of the album pales as the acoustics blend together.
The album is not a complete 180 or even a real shake up, but “This Old Dog” is a rock-steady DeMarco that is rarely seen. The album stands tall and confident compared to the halfhearted sing-songs on albums that cemented his goof rock foundation like “2.”
I cannot help but think that DeMarco is reflecting on his talent and his success on this album. It is too easy to turn away from him just as he becomes increasingly hailed as an indie-rock luminary. It is as if he knows he is on the precipice of true stardom; he is not playing dives and diners but he is not selling out Madison Square Garden, either. He is confronting the indie fan fear that he will get “too big” with nonchalance—he is taking a chance to celebrate looking back and face looking forward.
His “senior album” graduates from the basement bathroom jizz-jazz (even if he is still making his music there) because Mac DeMarco is never more himself than on this album. “This Old Dog” exists between his sheer talent for production and his matured honesty. Stardom has not changed Mac much, but if anything maybe his growing fame and growing up has given him a confidence we can hear. He is still that same old dog but his melodies are complex, his actions deliberate and his sound completely refined.
Now that he seems to have perfected it, maybe he will start moving on.
Mac DeMarco’s “This Old Dog” is available for download on bandcamp, and streaming on various services.
See him live for a special Mo Pop Presents concert at the Royal Oak Music Theater on Sunday May, 14.
Kayla Cockrel started listening to Mac DeMarco in 2013 after numerous recommendations from friends and YouTube. Having sifted through his discography she ended up becoming a passionate fan of not only his music but also his personality. “This Old Dog” was a long awaited album and she is excited to see where he will go next.