STAFF PICK: This Old Dog by Mac DeMarco
Two years ago, I observed, “The simplicity of Mac’s music bears a unique and sincere quality. It sits just below surface level, not meriting deep examination, but rather inviting the listener to coast along on the waves of Mac’s indulgences.” This was directly after the release of his EP, Another One. I bring this up to spare you the near-apologia which typically accompanies writings on Mac’s music. Perhaps it’s best, rather, to pull a quote from one of his interviews: “Perfectionist? That’s not something I am. Fuck that.”
Mac has a peace of mind and sense of self which one can’t help but envy; this is reflected in his lyrics. His songwriting is the same charming cocktail it always was, and it continues to baffle with its simplicity. Although he often speaks words of advice, as on ‘A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes,’ he’s not claiming to have attained some absolute truth; he’s simply telling us what he knows. The close proximity of his voice makes this exchange seem like a conversation with a wise and goofy friend. Consequently, there isn’t a lot here that is stylistically or thematically challenging, but that’s never been his aim. What he does bring to the table is a sentimental collection of thoughts on aging, love, and his relationship with his estranged father.
Oh no, looks like I’m seeing more of my old man in me.
If his sense of self is solidified in his lyrics, then it is galvanized by his instrumentation. With This Old Dog, Mac’s flirtation with synthesizers has evolved into a cornerstone; in the album highlight ‘For the First Time,’ he combines bombastic soprano voicings reminiscent of ‘Chamber of Reflection’ with the soft Korg backdrops of Another One. The synthesizer is so prominent that the more stripped-down recordings sound almost disparate. While this would typically present an uncomfortable contrast, it actually provides much-needed variation.
It seems as though Mac has honed in on his production skills within the framework of his very specific sound. He’s still playing the same music, but it sounds as though it’s been soldered together. Mac uses this to his advantage: on the latter half of the record, he tosses in some minor flirtations with reverb and vocal delay. This is most prominent on ‘On The Level.’
Mac’s longest track to date, ‘Moonlight on the River,’ is especially emotive; it’s telling that it’s the only song on the record that feels lyrically detached. In it, Mac struggles with how to feel about his estranged father. With every instrument in his repertoire, he saunters between peace and preemptive mourning, and then crescendos and dissolves into a chaotic mess of looping distortion. After the storm, a low quality snippet of his father’s voice plays, then cuts off mid-sentence. After a short pause, the detachment makes sense. The final track, ‘Watching Him Fade Away,’ feels like everything Mac had been working up the courage to say all along:
And even though we barely know each other,
It still hurts watching him fade away.
More than ever, it seems like this message isn’t for his audience. Rather, this is what he needed to write. There’s something decidedly disarming about this honesty.
Mac Demarco's tour kicks off today in Pioneertown, California. Get your tickets here