“6802 Bayfield Ave, Arverne, New York . Stop on by. I’ll make you a cup of coffee. See you later.” These were the last words the world heard from Mac DeMarco’s until May 5’s new release, This Old Dog, and, quite frankly, it’s a good thing that they didn’t stay his last words. This softened attempt at personalization fell drastically short for two reasons. Firstly, it ended an album that was painfully similar to Salad Days and 2 with maybe half of the redeeming qualities. Secondly, it came off as a desperate scream to the skies claiming DeMarco is the coolest cigarette-soaked indie rock hero that the world has ever seen. Simply put, he was trying too hard without a worthy result. Luckily for Mac and his fans, the dazzlingly subtle new project, This Old Dog, solves both of these main issues. It not only showcases a new and alarmingly different acoustic style from the traditional Mac album, but it also shows our hero with a comfortable step back in his true element without the need to prove anything. After a respectable career of trying to articulate just how cool he is, DeMarco’s new evolved strength lies in his ability to simply sit back and relax.
Prior to May 5, the traditional DeMarco album followed a very cohesive and strict formula. 2, Salad Days and Another One all have their token upbeat retro guitar riffs, gradual winding waves and occasional emotional high-pitched synth. After repeated listens, it becomes easy to lose track of which songs are on which albums, as all three tend to blend into one big Mac DeMarco super-compilation. For example, “Ode to Viceroy,” from 2 and “The Way You Love Her,” from Another One could easily fit into sophomore project Salad Days, as there seems to be very little variation in sound from 2012 to 2015. This Old Dog, however, breaks the traditional Mac mold entirely as the project is mainly acoustic with a much more withheld and meditative energy. Rather than the dreamy electronic intricate guitar riffs that flooded his discography, This Old Dog is more about the gentle movement of the chords. The approach is much more minimalistic as the rich and vibrant layers of the past have been reduced to a lighter and more fragile state.
The most effective illustration of this separation is the first single that was released from the album, the elegantly swaying “My Old Man.” Stuck on a loop of an acoustic guitar progression and a rudimentary electronic metronome in the background, Mac’s voice of nostalgia and growing up echoes with just the right balance of movement and relaxation. This formula is mimicked more as the album advances as many songs feature a single four-bar guitar loop, a drum beat and the light purr of DeMarco’s voice. Reminiscent of the speed of Real Estate and Wilco, DeMarco’s pace is never too slow to a point of boredom and moves only as fast as a light float down a river.
Mac has also evolved greatly in his more developed and personal songwriting. It is clear that after a few years in the industry, and simply life in general, Mac is much more mature, wise and, for lack of a better word, old. His words now come from a place of reminiscence and honesty that can only come from a more worn and weathered place. The album opens with lead single “My Old Man,” which sweetly hums about growing older and seeing the resemblance of one’s parents in one’s self. The album comes full circle in the end with “Watching Him Fade Away,” as Mac describes his incomplete closure with his dad. He croons, “and even though we barely know each other, it still hurts watching him fade away.” These two alarming realizations of adulthood are exactly what the theme throughout the album conveys. It is gradual, bittersweet and painfully beautiful.
Mac’s attitude toward love has evolved as well. Rather than his past approach of charming the listener into a false fantasy of love, here he has been through enough of it to have a better understanding. He sounds relaxed and satisfied with his loss on twinkling ballad “Still Beating,” when Mac expresses to a girl that “my heart still beats for you, even if you don’t feel it.” Here the longing has evolved from the Salad Days era, as not only is he finally addressing people directly and more honestly, but he has accepted the unrequited love in his maturity. Title track “This Old Dog,” feels the same way, as Mac sings out, “’Long as my heart’s beating in my chest, this old dog ain’t about to forget.” The honesty is much more apparent at this stage in his life, and we see Mac now attempting more to create an accurate message more than an impressive one.
Since he blew up in 2012, DeMarco has had the near perfect formula for becoming an indie rock icon. He made a song about obscure cigarettes, he wears red vans with white tube socks and he actively refuses to give a shit in most serious public contexts. His music was perfect, too. It was new and different and, above all, very very likeable. Mac has had a good spot in the industry for some time now and, quite frankly, he could have very well made another Salad Days and gotten good reception, stayed right where he was. But the organic and more relatable approach to This Old Dog shows a change that had to happen not for the industry, but for himself. Here we are given the transition process from blissfully unaware youth to nurturing and observant adult. Although not always glorified by the young and electrifying indie rock scene, Mac is in a space of growth that, maybe especially for our college context, is extremely important.