ALBUM REVIEW: Mac Demarco – This Old Dog

The cig smoking, drumstick up the ass, slack rocker’s fourth full-length album is a heavy hitting one right from the word go, as Mac’s struggle with his father’s abandonment sits comfortably at the fore.  Demarco has always been a diamond in the rough, at a time where musicians show less personality than ever, since he released his debut (Rock and Roll Night Club) in 2012. This Old Dog is focused upon the problem of growing old and being forced to mature: which are topics that stray from the path of the Mac Demarco we know. With more daring songwriting and a pristine studio sound, Mac’s fourth record might just be his best so far.

This subject matter brings a whole new sound as Mac strips back the effect ridden twang of electric guitars, in favour of raw acoustics with the heavy accompaniment of drum machines and synthesizers throughout. The coloured tone of his previous releases have been swapped to create a more homely aroma, as if Demarco is sat in your front room strumming along on the edge of your sofa. The turned down mood is only natural of Mac’s laid back persona and was a sound that I expected to come, as Mac will soon be 30.  These are songs to sit around a campfire to, preferably very drunk with a group of close friends and a pack of 20.

Mac immediately brings the feels with album opener ‘My Old Man’ with it’s acoustic warmth and bouncing synths. After pretty much five constant years of playing shows, Mac is a little lost in his old body and is realising how much time has passed and how different a person he has become. Mac is at his most self-deprecating here, as he sings: “Look in the mirror, who do you see? Someone familiar but surely not me, for he can’t be me. Look how old and cold and tired and lonely he’s become“.  Here Mac is staring at himself in the mirror, and is feeling daunted by his growth. A haunting image for someone who prides himself on being a man-child…

Tracks such as ‘A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes’ and ‘One More Love Song’ particularly showcase an expansion of sound, as Mac’s funky side shines through on the latter and we see harmonica and lead guitar battling for center stage on the aforementioned.  In regards to this album’s new direction, Mac stated that he forgot to write it in a way that could easily translate to a live set. But, Mac will do what Mac does best and he will work it out.  ‘One More Love Song’ comes as an extension of that Another One sound Mac brought with his dreamy previous full length of the same name.

Mac chooses to wear his flaws and insecurities on his sleeve with this record, as he brings the story of his fathers absence to life on several occasions. The singer-songwriter becomes more and more vulnerable as the tracks seamlessly wind from one to the next, peeling back the layers so to speak. This is Mac Demarco at his most raw, his love letter to a family he never quite had. Hopefully, listeners can see past the memes and mayhem and recognize what a deep, sincere place this music is coming from.

‘Baby You’re Out’ provides the most exciting and energetic moment of the record, with its  marimba beats and toe tapping bassline, whilst sub-two minute number ‘Sister’ bites hard with it’s painful sentiment. On ‘Sister’, he remarks, “Turns out not every dog has its day” before empathizing, “Wish there were more that I could do. Any time you’re hearing this, sister, know my heart goes out to you.” *tears inbound*

Demarco’s jazz and psychedelia influences shine through the cracks with ‘On The Level’, an almost Tame Impala sounding stoner track that incites the best kind of drowsiness with each listen. The track is a glimmer of hope in a sea of anxiety, as the chorus pines: “Boy, this could be your year“. I’d like to back up that statement and say that 2017 definitely is the year of Mac Demarco!

Pinnacle, seven minute effort ‘Moonlight On The River’ produces an impeccable composition of guitar chords, that stand out boldly from the rest of the album. “I’m home, there’s moonlight on the river, everybody dies” rings Demarco as he ponders the dark reality of life. ‘Still Beating’ comes as quite possibly the only track that comes close to old favourites such as ‘Freaking Out The Neighbourhood’ and ‘Ode To Viceroy’ with it’s squeaky clean guitar grooves and sun soaked percussion.

His father also appears to be the subject of album conclusion, ‘Watching Him Fade Away’, over nothing but a dreary synthesiser. Demarco appears to be conflicting with himself , “Haven’t got the guts to call him up, walk around as if you never cared in the first place, but if you never call, you’ll end up stuck, without another chance to tell him off right to his face.” This battle climaxes with quite possibly the rawest moment on the record: “And even though you barely know each other, it still hurts watching him fade way.” I didn’t think Mac was capable of being so heart wrenching but my tears were really, REALLY flowing by this point…

This Old Dog is a collection of deeply rooted sad songs, camouflaged as casually happy songs that evoke strong feelings of self-satisfaction rather than the self doubt that the record continually tackles. During in interview at Coachella, the Canadian explained that he went through quite a phase of anxiety and depression when making this record, due to its sensitive subject matter. He also said that the overall message of the record is that life is cruel yet beautiful at the same time. Mac has proved that old dogs can learn new tricks with this one. The record also comes as his riskiest thus far as a dark Mac Demarco record seems like an odd concept at first thought. Mac tackles this head on, and doesn’t once let it hinder him from making a solid record.

Check out This Old Dog here.

9/10

Words by Ben Davies

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