It’s easy to envision Mac DeMarco as ageless. His gap tooth grin and ever-affable personality speak to a youthful persona, while the floppy dad hats and cheap cigarettes that have become staples of his image are more in line with “middle-aged tradesman” than “indie rock icon”.
Such juxtapositions seem to be what This Old Dog was made to tackle, dealing with the dichotomies of aging lyrically, and different instrumental decisions sonically. On his third full-length album, DeMarco spends equal time with maturity and mischievousness, questioning a budding likeness to his father in the opening song “My Old Man”, while saving room to offer cheeky relationship advice on “One Another”. This Old Dog also boasts the most acoustic guitar and synthesizer of any Mac DeMarco release, a mix that works surprisingly well on the record’s titular track, and serves as a welcome change from the musician’s trademark pedal-heavy sound.
Although these changes to DeMarco’s song writing formula make for generally successful new material, This Old Dog does suffer from issues of monotony. Songs like “Baby You’re Out” and “Moonlight on the River” sound like poorer versions of tracks found earlier on the record, while “One More Love Song” is about as original as its title suggests. What makes songs like album openers “My Old Man” and “This Old Dog” so engaging is that they not only feel fresh within DeMarco’s overall body of work, but come across as intimate ruminations on the artist’s life and relationships. Catchy acoustic strumming,
vibrant synth melodies, and cleverly accented clave patterns no doubt help make these songs work musically, but it’s the sentiments espoused by DeMarco that make them resonate. This is best captured midway through the album on “Sister”, perhaps the most heartfelt minute and nineteen seconds DeMarco has ever put to tape. Sonically, “Sister” is sparse and solitary (two words rarely found in the DeMarco lexicon), with little more than the singer’s voice and some plucked strings to carry the tune. It’s also the best This Old Dog has to offer: a brief but tender look behind the curtain; beyond the visage of the goofy 20-something with an endless supply of Viceroys tucked into his overalls.
It’s hard to see how This Old Dog will be received and remembered in DeMarco’s discography, as it lacks the early energy of 2 or the immediate accessibility of Salad Days. What it does offer, however, is the most self-reflective version of DeMarco to date. It’s hard to envision indie rock’s man of many memes as anything but the caricature we’ve come to know, but the reality is Mac DeMarco is getting older, and This Old Dog isn’t afraid to embrace that.
review by Eli Teed