Released on May 5th, Mac DeMarco‘s This Old Dog is a tender, close look at “family… depression, [and] anxiety,” and the juxtaposition between these emotions and happiness, something that, according to Mac DeMarco “everybody goes through – unless you have your eyes closed your whole life.” As usual, making large statements that are simultaneously ironic and insightful.
When Mac DeMarco moved from Queens to LA to release, “This Old Dog,” his fifth album in just over half a decade, he brought with him a handful of demos that he’d written in New York. The move inspired a different kind of release for DeMarco, slowing down his process, with more time between when he wrote the songs and the debut.
The newly refined artist spent some time setting up his studio, and playing around with a drum machine, causing him to push the release date. The machine itself fit so effortlessly into his loafing, jangly acoustic guitar, even among stylistic, cleanly recorded drums.
Starting the album with, “My Old Man,” with each cigarette, he breathes new life into millenial clichés, such as already feeling elderly at age 25. DeMarco making light of an existential crisis made for a playful and tongue-in-cheek response to it. The lyrics, “for he can’t be me // look how old and cold and tired // and lonely he’s become,” followed by lighthearted admission to the fact that he’s “seeing more of [his] old man,” in himself.
Without using language more complex than “This Old Man,” by Tori Amos, DeMarco simply exhales his surprisingly insightful lyrics into basic song structures. His fingers simplistically slipping between discordant chord patterns, while the bass blares loud, skipping gently between the notes. Although DeMarco typically records real drums after the initial recordings, several of the songs include the drum machine as the only percussion.
The drum machine, which appears in the majority of the LP, helps to accentuate the borderline cheesy 80s-style that is maintained by sprinkling detuned synths. In “For the First Time,” he uses a brightly colored synthesizer; as notes descend, the pitch wobbles, torpid – calling back to the one he used in “Chamber of Reflections.” Even in songs like “On the Level,” where guitar is nowhere to be heard, dreamy synthesizer harmonies pad DeMarco’s breathy voice among hissing percussion.
In “Dreams From Yesterday,” the synthesizer is moaning lazily like it doesn’t want to get out of bed, slow-motion pulling the sheets off it’s face. Offset by bossanova-style woodblock clicks, only DeMarco could sing about dreams “knocking at your door,” and get away with it. His ironic use of cliché keeps his words fresh and unique, and brings listeners into the state-of-mind that helped make those clichés popular to begin with.
“Moonlight on the River” is a seven minute song with a dreamy, electric guitar and leisure waves of synthesizer chords that come in with the chorus, all building to a cathartic, Floyd-ian ending. Processed samples screech through a time-bending echo, resounding over the still-gentle guitar. Finally, there’s no drum machine, and the slippery, jazzy rhythm leads the jam to a sudden ending.
Voice samples echo to silence, where DeMarco offers “Watching Him Fade Away,” a stripped down, naked summary of the themes of the album. With only detuned keyboard and mostly clean vocals singing “I know you never meant to put him down, // and even if you did, he sure deserved it… watching him fade away,” the song captures the listener’s attention. These simple and withdrawn lyrics maintain DeMarco’s playful nature, and although they are refined, still feel very raw, a juxtaposition that leaves the listener hooked on his charm.