Mac DeMarco, propelled by thousands of teenyboppers and fellow slackers, has emerged as one of indie rock’s biggest stars in recent years. Starting off as a lo-fi Montreal-based solo act with a knack for writing catchy jangle pop, DeMarco, now living in Los Angeles, has stayed true to his roots. With his latest release, This Old Dog, DeMarco adds just enough new elements to his music to stay fresh while delivering his trademark sound that fans expect from the big buffoon known for his stage antics and charming persona.
The whole Mac DeMarco shtick has a ticking expiration date before it goes from cute to suffocating. We can only handle so many of his stunts — like shoving drumsticks up his butt or telling fans his home address, something he admits was a bit ill-advised — before he becomes nothing more than a royal pain in the ass rather than indie rock royalty. With This Old Dog, he’s made the appropriate changes, maturing not only as an adult but as a musician.
Songs like “Watching Him Fade Away,” arguably his most bittersweet track to date, and “My Old Man” dive into his broken relationship with his father, who abandoned DeMarco at a young age. He has hinted at his personal life before, though he favored goofiness over emotional introspection. “Cooking Up Something Good” from his second album 2 took a whimsical approach to his father’s addiction problems and trivialized the issues while ignoring the emotional damage it had on his life. With This Old Dog, he finally opens up and proves that he’s suffered deeply from his father’s negligence, differing from what we would think based on his effortlessly cool, laid-back on-stage character.
DeMarco has always worn his heart on his sleeve. But unlike past songs pondering the feelings of falling in love — like the fan favorite “Still Together,” tenured as the closer to every live performance — DeMarco ventures into the bleaker aspects of romance: Lovey-dovey, starry-eyed lyrics and cheery love songs take a back seat on This Old Dog, and heartbreak dominates. “One More Love Song,” introduced by gloomy synths and not-so-upbeat guitars, questions the cyclical nature of romance. We fall in love, fall out of love and become heartbroken; why do we even bother? “Is one more love out to break your heart / Set it up just to watch it fall apart.” By far his most emotionally gripping, “One More Love Song” is also the album’s highlight.
Still, DeMarco doesn’t cease to bring his optimistic spirit to other heartbreak-oriented tracks. In “One Another,” DeMarco plays the role of your best friend trying to convince you that your relationship wasn’t worthless. A sunny, blissful guitar riff carries the song, meanwhile lyrics like “Don’t feel like all the time you put in went to waste / The way your heart was beating all those days” assure you that there’s something to gain from every relationship, both the good and bad. He’s never overly insightful, but frankly, this is refreshing; it’s often easier to connect with down-to-earth lyrics rather than cryptic or pretentious ones.
Each album has seen DeMarco introduce some new instrument. One by one, he’s expanding — albeit very slowly — his musical territory. He’s ditched flat drums and replaced them with punchy electronic kits. The synths he flirted with on Salad Days now play as equally important role as the guitar. Acoustic guitars almost outweigh electric. The titular track includes a floaty steel guitar, something new to DeMarco’s arsenal, and for the first time, it’s less obvious that he’s the sole musician in the studio. He delivers the jangly pop nectar, but tones it down a bit to avoid repetitiveness.
“On the Level” has a catchy, bright synth hook reminiscent of ’70s soft rock and ’80s pop with lyrics that, once again, jab at his father’s cowardice; these lyrics, less trivial and goofy, put him at great risk of confusing his many teenage fans who probably don’t even care about his lyricism in the first place, but rather the image and aesthetic of being a Mac DeMarco fan. And similarly, the seven-minute long “Moonlight on the River”’s feedback and slow pace could do the same. Although not astoundingly innovative by any means, it’s the sort of experimentation DeMarco needed on this album.
A lot was expected from DeMarco with This Old Dog, his third full-length album and fifth release on Captured Tracks. In the volatile music industry, where artists go from relevant to forgotten with one mediocre album, he needed to make some sort of change. To be quite honest, I expected to hate his new album. His teenage fandom has greatly turned me off, but at this point, it can’t be argued that DeMarco is damn good at making a hypnotically catchy pop song. This Old Dog is undoubtedly his best album, one that solidifies his position as a leader in indie rock and proves he’s more than just a one-trick pony.