The first thing I did after listening to This Old Dog, the new record by Mac DeMarco, was type his name into Youtube. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but I needed to actually see it.
I’ve heard singles that he has put out. Drunk dudes at parties have assumed I was a big fan; probably because of my unkempt appearance and proclivity for cigarettes. I think I’d even watched half an interview with him where he spoke about wanting to try a threesome. But after spending a sustained period of time with his music I wanted to know more.
This Old Dog sees Mac DeMarco at his most lackadaisical, wreathed in a bubble of easy energy the weight of the world may finally burst.
There is a cult of personality that surrounds DeMarco and it has a profound effect on the music that he makes. This is hardly surprising in and of itself, as it makes sense that an artists’ personality will be present in their work. However, artifice and persona usually play a significant role too.
Artists curate themselves into their art, emphasising facets that they believe their audience will find entertaining, dramatic or meaningful. In the case of Mac DeMarco this process, at least initially, seems non-existent.
The songs on This Old Dog flow with a natural energy that suggests intimacy and immediacy. The production is warm and autumnal but also decidedly modest. The playing and accompaniment is sophisticated and minimal, with each song generally focusing on only two or three elements (acoustic guitar, muted bass, synthesizer, drum machines).
Both the production aesthetic and music suggest the creative process, rather than a polished product which feeds right into the most appealing aspect of the artist: how easy and carefree he makes it all seem.
How easy Mac makes it all sound may be his greatest strength, but it also might be a cunning example of artifice. Few would make the argument that Mac is a lyrical genius and even fewer would argue that it matters. Yet when delivered in his off-the-cuff demeanour a line like “ oh no, looks like I’m seeing more of my old man in me” acquires a kind of stoic beauty.
However, in the hands of more considered songwriter it may be viewed less sympathetically. This isn’t to say the song itself is dull; My Old Man is a charming and catchy single that definitely does have emotional weight. It isn’t, however, particularly dramatic or ambitious for a song about realising the similarities between you and the father who abandoned you.
The more I think about this lack of drama though the more I am convinced that it is critical to who Mac DeMarco is as an artist, at least currently. This Old Dog is so easy to like because it combines lazy grooves and winning melody with an attitude that, for the most part, could be described as happy-go-lucky. Mac focuses on themes that pop into his head but rarely lets on to the extent that they bother him.
When he sings “just trying to keep it light, sometimes casts a shadow” on A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes he hints at the strain and also a possible new direction for his song writing.
Until then, This Old Dog does a great job at keeping the mood upbeat and honest; and considering the current state of the world he probably deserves a medal for that alone.
This Old Dog is out today.