This Old Dog, released in 2017, is Mac DeMarco’s third proper studio album. Whether you love him or hate him for his wild antics and goofy personality, it’s defined him as one of the nicest musicians around. He even gave out his address to fans on the last track of his mini-LP, Another One. Although DeMarco has been on a slow shift away from the jangle pop of his debut, 2, and his breakout, Salad Days, this album marks the biggest shift in style for him. Don’t worry, the guitars with the tone only he seems to be able to find are still present on most of the album, but there’s also the addition of synths and more room for the songs to breathe. DeMarco’s songwriting has matured along with him, and This Old Dog picks up right where Another One left off.
This Old Dog begins with the gently rollicking guitar of “My Old Man”. Mac sings about a fear of aging, a theme he explores further on the album. He never had a positive relationship with his father and the song expresses fears he has of seeing more of his father in himself. DeMarco has a very carefree personality and is a vibrant live performer, but when you stop and listen to the lyrics they reflect a darker image. Mac touches on aspects of the jangly, guitar-focused sound that made him a contender in the music scene on “Baby You’re Out” and “A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes”, but most of the record is noticeably more downbeat. “This Old Dog”, the somber title track, is another song on growing old, but is lyrically more content. Although he’s only 27 years old, This Old Dog is a diary of Mac processing growing older and coming to terms with heartache, all while dealing with a move from New York to Los Angeles. The songs on heartache can either be interpreted as the loss of a lover or him describing his relationship with his father. The closer, “Watching Him Fade Away”, makes me think most of the album is inclined to be about the latter. He even channels his inner Sufjan with the lyrics, “I’m home, there’s moonlight on the river, everybody dies”. It helps ground the usually exuberant songwriter in reality.
DeMarco explores more ideas musically than he ever has before on This Old Dog. “Sister” is an all-too-brief bare bones number that brings out the emotion behind Mac’s voice. The way his voice breaks when delivering the final line, “Sister, know my heart goes out to you”, is a moment that sticks with you. “Moonlight On The River” is the longest song in his discography and starts off unassuming, but ends up breaking down into a dissonance-filled climax. It’s basically Mac’s equivalent to “The Shrine / An Argument” off Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes. He also incorporates much more synth into his music, a move I’m surprised he didn’t make before as it complements his sound so well. “For The First Time” is built around a shimmering synth line with the bass at the front of the mix. Think of Tame Impala’s Currents. “On The Level” is the track that takes the most advantage of the newfound synth, which turns it into a standout. It’s used sparingly throughout the album, but to great effect. DeMarco proves his worth as a songwriter over and over on This Old Dog. If he ever grows out of his wacky personality, he has more than enough talent as a songwriter to make up for it. Expect to be seeing his name in the press for a long time.
Although most of This Old Dog is both lyrically and musically darker than we’re used to hearing from DeMarco, it’s not without its brighter moments. There’s the jangle pop of “Baby You’re Out” and the optimistic turn of the lyrics in “One Another”. Mac DeMarco puts a lot of emotion into his songwriting, most of which contrasts his carefree personality, but makes for a surprisingly brilliant album. He proves that he can branch out from the sound he rose to prominence with to even greater success. There’s a saturation of singer-songwriters, but a lack of truly unique voices, and Mac has cruised his way to the top of the pack.
Pressing Details: This is the “Indie Exclusive” pressing on white vinyl released by Captured Tracks. There’s several variants for this album including a red pressing, a clear pressing, and a pressing with an alternate cover. It sounds really great with absolutely no surface noise. Each instrument, which Mac all recorded on his own, really stands out. The record comes in a a gatefold sleeve that features a few credits and a photo of Mac, but there’s no insert with lyrics or further details on the album. That’s disappointing for the price but at least the album sounds good, which is what’s most important. It also does include a download code. This Old Dog is well worth picking up on vinyl for fans of DeMarco, but if you’re on the fence give the album a listen first.
The standard black pressing of This Old Dog is available from Amazon here.