The mark of any great artist is the ability to change the way they work, and stay interesting while they’re at it. Imagine if David Bowie never shed Ziggy Stardust, or if Bob Dylan never went electric… really, where would we be?
Over the breadth of four studio albums, Mac DeMarco has transformed from a hero to living room stoners into one of contemporary music’s most universally acclaimed songwriters. On the day his new LP Here Comes The Cowboy reaches the world, we’re taking a look at just how far Mac has come.
From Rock And Roll Night Club to Here Comes The Cowboy: with every release, Mac DeMarco edges closer and closer to his true self.
DeMarco’s evolution has not been in a more grandiose direction, as is often the case, but an inwards one. With each new album he has stripped back his music and his intent, edging closer and closer to a style that’s transparent, relaxed, and introspective. Here Comes The Cowboy, his latest, is where this endgame has become most apparent.
Yet to understand the emotional core that DeMarco has managed to drill down to, it’s important to know which layers he has shed.
Rock And Roll Nightclub, Mac DeMarco’s debut mini-LP released way back in 2012, was a smorgasbord of audio experiments which included slowed down vocals, chopped beats and skits. Reviewers at the time became stuck on words like “sleazy” and “sex pest”, and rightly so; the record was imbued with the debauchery which sits at rock ‘n roll’s beating heart.
But when you wiped away the grime, DeMarco’s undeniably sweet spirit was taking shape. Tracks like She’s Really All I Need and Me and Jon Hanging On are proof, recorded to a dodgy four-track for the world to witness.
2 was the next step in DeMarco’s playbook, honing in on a sound that holistically embraced the jangling guitar tones he would soon become synonymous with. Charming love songs lay side-by-side with sardonic hymns for cigarettes and booze, peppered with sharpened ruminations on life in general.
By this time Mac DeMarco’s transition away from smelly rockstar had begun, but was yet to fully coalesce. Fans still couldn’t look past the piss-and-vomit urban legends surrounding his stage antics, or the fit of coughing which closes Ode To Viceroy.
Salad Days was, for most, the moment Mac DeMarco became a force to be reckoned with. Heralded by title track Salad Days and the spooky Chamber of Reflection, still two of DeMarco’s most successful songs, this album was both a heart-throb and a chart-throb.
His lyrics had also taken a more serious turn. Gone were the tongue-in-cheek references to DeMarco’s vices or the dumb allure of rockstar life. Goodbye Weekend feels like getting hit by the crushing weight of adulthood all over again, and lines such as “It’s within that brings that lonely feeling” punctuate the album with marked frequency.
Psychologically, spiritually, and physically, Mac DeMarco was beginning to grow up before our very eyes.
By the time Another One had dropped, DeMarco’s career had begun to fully lean towards an endearing and simple philosophy. Songs like A Heart Like Hers or Another One were show-stopping in what they managed to accomplish as a sum of their parts.
Keyboards played a more concise part than ever before; well-placed chords and swirling samples forming a dazzling backdrop to an album that was dreamy and full of character.
It would be safe to assume that this was Mac, fully formed. Part Zappa, part Dylan, part Mr. Rogers, it was obvious he had graduated in some way. Levelled up, you could say.
Here Comes The Cowboy continues the trend set by This Old Dog, which was DeMarco at his most stripped back. Now his compositions have been shaved down to just two or three elements, usually guitar, beat, and vocal. His emotional focus, too, has been honed.
After four albums, it seems Mac DeMarco’s greatest talent is distillation. Each song on Here Comes The Cowboy has a singular philosophical nucleus, whether it’s keeping your chin up on All Of Our Yesterdays or reaching outside of the box with On The Square.
Choo Choo feels like the breed of wacky funk that George Clinton was cooking in the ’70s, a sprinkling of proof that Mac’s cheeky side is still happy to shine through the cracks. The very next track, simply titled K, is one of his most touching love songs yet.
Mac DeMarco’s career is a gradient and with Here Comes The Cowboy, we find ourselves at the utmost end of the spectrum. Album by album, DeMarco has peeled off the layers of his songwriting until all that remains is a pure and beautiful core.
The question now is where he will go next. It seems impossible to imagine a Mac DeMarco record getting any more bare, so perhaps a return to a busier style is on the cards. Maybe he’ll switch direction entirely. Then again, maybe he’ll barely change at all.
Wherever you go, Mac, we’ll be listening in, smiling wide while the butt of a used cigarette smokes away by our side.
Here Comes The Cowboy is out now.