This Old Dog by Mac DeMarco

Mac DeMarco is a lovable goofball who’s proven himself as one of the best guitarists and musicians in the indie rock scene today. Following two months after the release of the videos for the tracks “My Old Man” and “This Old Dog,” DeMarco has released his much-anticipated third full-length album, This Old Dog. With little surprise, DeMarco stays true to his inviting quirkiness in both style and lyrics. 

On This Old Dog, DeMarco sings of heavy thoughts and feelings about his father’s imminent passing, seeing his father in himself more and more, while also trying to learn from misunderstandings with his girlfriend. Utilizing simple, direct lyrics and smooth and unique instrumentation, he cultivates dreamscapes of these different internal struggles and how messy and complex emotions and relationships can be.

This Old Dog contains some great new tracks, but its poor pacing, lack of a developed sound, and some failed experiments make this not a bad album, but a disappointment from such an accomplished songwriter.

Below are our individual reflections.

 

Alex:

This Old Dog took a turn in DeMarco’s growth as a musician, one that I welcomed but did not wholly expect, with the strong inclusion of synth in this album, whereas that has been sparse to absent in his previous works. The vocals and lyrics are signature DeMarco, being some of the best he has released yet. However, as the album progressed he relied less and less on his incredible guitar playing talent, and letting the synth steal the show, which for the most part added beautifully to the tone of the album. However, it did feel that DeMarco did not always know how to best use this new tool in his repertoire.

There are some albums that are very attention demanding, and there are albums that are generally meant for the listener to just sing along to or put in the background. When I listen to this album intentionally, I am seriously enjoying it, but at the same time do not feel bad about putting it in the background. I believe he has found a great balance in his works.

I have a huge appreciation for DeMarco’s continued presence in the music industry, striving to be his unique self and not giving anyone the slightest ground to claim he’s going too commercial or selling out. He continues to be just himself. And this is one of his most personal albums yet, as though it is just for him as he processes struggles in his life – or maybe even for his girlfriend to hear as a means of communicating what’s on his heart. We just have the privilege to be listening in on them. And what he is processing is all very relatable – relational tension, fallout, or brokenness is ubiquitous in the human experience. No one can live life free of it. And his reflections on his relationships with his father offers the point that even if the ties are not present, family is still vital, formational. There will always be weight and impacts from relationships, no matter how present or absent that person may be.

My major concern is that I felt in the end that a full-length album may not have been necessary to convey his feelings, thoughts, and exploration of a new sound. The lyrics at times became redundant, and some of the tracks were just not fleshed out well or did not contribute well to the message or flow of the rest of the album.

Favorite tracks: My Old Man, Baby You’re Out, One More Love Song, Watching Him Fade Away

Weak tracks: On The Level, Still Beating, Sister

 

Matt:

This is definitely Mac’s most approachable album to date and has a very chill and laid-back atmosphere.  The lyrics and vocal delivery are good, and sometimes great (“One Another”, “Dreams From Yesterday”).  Past Mac albums have been guitar-driven, but here you’ll find a lot more keyboard work and sparse instrumentation.  This allows the listener to focus more on what Mac is singing and really listen to his voice.  If you’re looking for a DeMarco primer, or want to introduce a skeptical friend to Mac, forget the Spotify playlists, just give this a spin.

Unfortunately, the good aspects of This Old Dog weren’t enough to elevate this album for me.  My main complaint is that none of the songs ever really grabbed me the way “Ode to Viceroy” or “Still Together” did.  Right off the bat, the album feels like it’s coasting rather than having the ebb and flow of a great album.  It starts slow and stays slow for its 13 tracks.  

At the root of this pacing problem is the instrumentation.  Mac is a good musician, but he is an excellent guitarist.   This album really lacks the great guitar playing that defined his last few releases, which wouldn’t be a problem if the musical quality was still there.  But I don’t think it is.  The keys that take center stage on the bulk of the album are not nearly as strong or as interesting musically as Mac’s inventive and unique guitar-work.  This is highlighted most on the song “On The Level”, where it sounds like  he was experimenting with keyboard sounds, but instead fleshing them out, these few elements are repeated ad nauseam.

In short, this is a good album to listen to on a road trip or if you’re hanging out at the beach, but unfortunately, it’s not another great album from Mr. DeMarco.  And that makes the disappointment sting a little more, since he’s already proved what a great musician he is.  

Favorite Tracks: My Old Man, One Another, One More Love Song, Watching Him Fade Away

Weak Tracks: This Old Dog, On The Level, Moonlight On the River

 

Jake:

Certified indie rocker, Mac DeMarco is back with a fresh new release. It’s been about 3 years since his last full-length LP, Salad Days. Since then, he has established a fan club and released a mini LP called Another One. Mac’s music is odd upon first listen. He creates an atmosphere of modulated guitars, quirky synths, and groovy bass lines. On This Old Dog, however, Mac takes a slight departure from his trademark sound to cultivate a different atmosphere.

Synths and keyboards occupy a lot of the space of This Old Dog. To experienced Mac DeMarco listeners, this is a whole different ball game. Nothing exactly new, though, since we got a glimpse of what was to come with the song “Chamber Of Reflection” from Salad Days. He tinkers a lot with this sound on the album, which he manages to couple with emotional lyrics centered around broken relationships. This Old Dog covers a lot of ground in terms of his relationship with his dad, who is nearing the end of his life. There are several high points on the album with great synth swells and impacts, but they overshadow his guitar arrangements.

As a whole, the album is fairly well structured as Mac takes listeners on an emotional journey through his thoughts during this time of his life. He creates some great dreamscapes, but loses some appeal through repetitive synth tracking. Nevertheless, there are still several great moments. Just wait until the next one. Let us see how he develops his sound from this pivot point.

Favorite Tracks: My Old Man, One More Love Song, Moonlight On the River

Weak Tracks: On The Level, Sister

 

6.5

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