This is a review of Mac DeMarco’s fifth LP, again written for the University newspaper. It considers how his use of social media jars with the sentimental lyrics beneath his care-free hipster exterior.
Published in May 2017.
Mac DeMarco: a happy-go-lucky, scruff ball of a Canadian singer-songwriter ‘rolling through life, to roll over and die’ as the chorus of the title song on his best-selling album to date, Salad Days, openly announced to the world.
Just a thirty second scroll through his Instagram is enough to infer that this guy doesn’t take himself seriously; contorted facial expressions, topless air guitars and photo locations including ‘Little Turkey’, ‘Big Bird’ and ‘Iron Penis’ all contribute to his blasé, stupid but impossible-to-dislike persona.
Such a persona oozes through his slacker rock, self-proclaimed ‘jizz-jazz’, style of music, a unique concoction of jangling acoustic guitar and loping synthesized notes.
Yet, it seems hard to reconcile the deliberately self-deprecated public persona of a man who stuck a drumstick up his anus while delivering a rendition of U2 – Beautiful Day at a concert (if you haven’t seen this, what on earth do you think the internet is for?) with the more sensitive, forlorn voice that comes through his lyrics.
This Old Dog demonstrates clear maturation, more explicitly pondering personal issues that the melancholic tone of previous tracks such as ‘Chamber of Reflection’ and ‘A Heart like Hers’ had only hinted at. The album engages with break-ups, faltering family relationships and the loss of a loved one.
The opening track, ‘My Old Man’ expresses the anxiety of growing older as the outwardly care-free musician pensively reflects on ‘the price tag hanging off of all that fun’. It seems the repercussions of smoking, which a younger DeMarco so brilliantly satirized in ‘Ode to Viceroy’, are finally catching up with him.
It also introduces the delicate topic of a strained father-son relationship. At the time of writing, DeMarco’s father had fallen ill and the lyric ‘uh oh, I’m seeing more of my old man in me’ is made all the more poignant in light of the knowledge his dad is a raging alcoholic who refused to pay child support. He told The Guardian that turning into his dad is ‘the last thing I’d like to do’.
It seems that through his development as an artist, his more serious side is developing too; his acknowledgement of such personal insecurities allows him to come to terms with them in a creative and productive manner.
The message of this melodious opener is disconcertingly relatable. Certainly, I spend most Saturday mornings filling out an accumulator, swigging on a builders brew and reading headlines on the BBC news page, acutely aware of emulating my old man. Does this mean I have also internalised all of his negative attributes? Who knows? To be quite frank, who cares?
Through his concise self-analysis, the gap-toothed hipster communicates a pretty universal sentiment and, far from acting as a diary entry, his personal reflections give fans something to empathise with and connect to.
Another personal aspect of DeMarco’s latest album is his ambiguous depiction of love. ‘Still Beating’ and ‘One Another’ in particular allude to the struggle of maintaining a relationship, without seeming clichéd or crass in their lyrical exploration of feeling. It sounds like he’s mourning someone, or something, ‘I cried too, you better believe it’, but the pleasure is in the listener’s inability to put their finger on just who, or just what, he addresses.
The album comes full circle, ending with ‘Watching Him Fade Away’ which centres on the touching, introspective lyric ‘even though we barely know each other, it still hurts, watching him fade away’. Again, it’s hard not to interpret this in light of his relationship with his father, but as he grows older it seems DeMarco is directing this at much at his own aging self as he is at anybody else.
Each track fades in and out and the album has a dreamlike, spaced out feel complimented by his experimental use of niche instruments from a vintage drum kit (in ‘Dreams from Yesterday’) to a harmonica (in ‘A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes’). DeMarco professed that ‘Being Alive is very strange’ in an interview with Junkee and each song reminds us of this by mirroring the way in which we all fade in and out of existence.
Lyrically then, it’s an album full of heavily personal issues and emotionally charged insights. Despite this, DeMarco is true to his signature, easygoing sound and it makes for a laid back and effortless listen.
It is no coincidence it’s been released in early May; I can hear it now, echoing in the background of a chilled out summer afternoon as the BBQ sizzles away, the sun smiles down and the listener dozes in and out of consciousness.