Why Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?
Goofball Mac Demarco’s highly anticipated fifth album, This Old Dog, was officially released (although prematurely leaked) on May 5th via Captured Tracks. And yes, #CincoDeMarco has been trending in anticipation.
On this album, serious songwriting and somber lyrics about relationships and getting older take a front seat. Demarco also opts for more synth sounds, which drive tracks like the romantic “For the First Time” and the chill “On The Level.” An acoustic, intimate sound is also preferred, which is why Mac never sounds more than a few feet away.
The album opens with “My Old Man,” in which Demarco invites the listener to look into his reflection, in which he sees himself slowly becoming his father — a man with whom he most likely has a strenuous relationship. “Oh no / looks like / I’m seeing more of my old man in me,” he sings in the chorus to strumming acoustic guitar and a steady electro drum beat. “This Old Dog” follows in similar fashion, the theme of getting older remaining constant as he sings, “This old dog / ain’t about to forget / all we’ve had and all that’s next / as long as my heart’s beating in my chest / this old dog / ain’t about to forget,” which, at a mere 26 years of age, can seem a little sombering, but knowing Demarco’s personality, it’s most likely a half joke-half truth, similar to asking someone whether he’s laughing or crying right now. The album moves along with the more upbeat “Baby You’re Out,” which picks up the pace and starts to fill in the sound, adding percussive textures and warped octaves.
Shimmering synths enter in “For the First Time,” which could only be best described in Demarco’s words himself as “jizz-jazz.” “It’s just like seeing her / for the first time / again,” he laments about a lover. In “One Another,” Demarco returns to a familiar sound from Another One and Salad Days, which make liberal use of slide guitar and have a homegrown feel. He sings that better days are ahead in a richly-filled chorus, “It’s not like you never tried to forget her / but these days are better without one another.” “Still Beating” is another song about relationships past:”Honey my heart still beats for you / even though you don’t feel it,” Demarco sings dryly. The stripped down “Sister” rests in the middle of the album and features raw and tender vocals with simple strumming, sans percussion. “Dreams From Yesterday” has a prominent claves part and literally sounds as though it’s being performed live, delicately, just inches away. “A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes” is upbeat with a ska-like feel, plus harmonica and more of those claves sounds.
The atmosphere smoothens again with “One More Love Song,” a keys-driven ballad, and, yes, more of that jizz-jazz vibe. The mood continues with “On the Level,” which stands out as one of the stronger, synth-driven tracks, reverting to the topic of “making his old man proud.” While the melody is simple, the composition is smooth and captivating, with jazz-inspired synth chords and perfect fourths alternating in the chorus. Second to the final track, “Moonlight on the River,” is the longest of them all, clocking in at seven minutes for plenty of time to enjoy a jam session. The track is reminiscent of label-mate Wild Nothing’s epic outro in “Alien,” off their latest album, Life of Pause. Jam session endings are always a delightful experience, and, when done well, ones that the listener and performer never want to end. This is the case with “Moonlight on the River,” as the song starts off slowly and gently before introducing the main theme of the jam in the guitar, which features Demarco’s classic, distorted laughter. It’s a standout track that’s truly not to be missed live. The album closes with “Watching Him Fade Away,” an ode to Demarco’s father. He sings, “And event though we barely know each other / it still hurts watching him fade away,” giving the listener a serious glimpse into his family life as he shares his experience of slowly losing his father. Although it may not be the strongest track to end on, it stays true to Mac Demarco’s previous album, as he favors going out quietly, with an afterthought that can’t be ignored.
In This Old Dog, Demarco shows us that he’s still got a lot left in him to write. This may be one of his strongest albums yet, as he opens his heart to his fans, revealing what keeps him up at night, all the while crafting stunning indie songs that are unpretentious and unique. Much like his character, Mac Demarco’s This Old Dog is cool, effortless, and truly one of a kind.