Mac Demarco returns with his, third album, the self-produced This Old Dog.
This Old Dog is a more mature, heart on the sleeve affair than DeMarco’s earlier albums, wrestling with serious personal themes, albeit in DeMarco’s characteristic laid-back style. Opening tracks and lead singles, ‘My Old Man’ and ‘This Old Dog’ set the tone for the album, with reflective lyrics on the reoccurring themes of family, mortality, and aging: “there's a price tag hanging off of having all that fun…Uh oh, looks like I’m seeing more of my old man in me”. DeMarco’s estranged drug-addict and alcoholic father became seriously ill (he has since recovered) and This Old Dog touchingly charts Demarco’s conflict with his feelings towards his father and his own life choices. The album closer, ‘Watching Him Fade Away’, is disarmingly sincere on the subject. A minimal keyboard track, with lyrics deliberating what to do and a real fragility to DeMarco’s voice.
However, This Old Dog is not an entirely maudlin album. There is a lot of stoner pop and trademark woozy “Jizz Jazz” to balance out the album. ‘Baby You’re Out’ is charmingly upbeat and melodic and like many other tracks on the album has a bossa nova style to the percussion, which shouldn’t work, but it somehow does. ‘One Another’ is a similarly bright for a consolatory break up song: “The way your heart was beating all those days, and suddenly it beats another pace” with a touch of a Paul Simon feel to the guitar solo outro. Likewise, ‘Still beating’ is a bittersweet break-up song showcasing DeMarco’s romantic side and some catchy chorus-laced guitar hooks.
DeMarco recently relocated from the East coast to LA, although you’d think DeMarco was a West coast native through and through with his surfer-slacker sound. He has a flare for making sunny tracks that can still be very introspective. ‘Dreams from Yesterday’ is perhaps the bleakest bossa nova song ever recorded: “Once a dream, is finally put to bed, rest up sleepy head, might as well be dead”, but you’ll still find yourself swaying along to it.
This Old Dog still has tracks of the sensual, slow-jam quality that fans would associate with earlier DeMarco. ‘For The First Time’ with its dreamy synth and funky bass and ‘One More Love Song’ with its raked soft chords and big piano on the chorus’ could make their way onto any sexy time playlist.
There is a mature, restrained tone to This Old Dog in comparison to Demarco’s earlier albums, with lyrical brevity, yet DeMarco maintains his warmth. His voice is quite reminiscent of a breathy Damon Albarn. ‘Moonlight On The River’ is the only track on the album where he really lets himself go with its lengthy space, discordant outro, other than that, none of the tracks outstay their welcome.
‘On the Level’s swirling synths remind me of a psychedelic siren, but the soft keys beneath and distant vocals keep it in check. Demarco plays every instrument, produced and engineered This Old Dog to an impressive standard. Even more so that DeMarco has created an album that is poignant and evocative, yet you could still play it at a barbeque. You feel for DeMarco and the circumstances that led to many of these songs. It’s debatable whether suffering is actually good for the soul, but it has definitely been good for DeMarco’s songwriting.