Mac DeMarco takes a few moments to think about his life on ‘This Old Dog’
In the five or so years since he released his first project, Mac DeMarco has carved out a rather unique space for himself musically.
Using his goofy sense of humor and his penchant for folksy, acoustic instrumentation, DeMarco’s records usually sound as cheerful as a warm summer day.
On “This Old Dog,” though, DeMarco tones down the cheerfulness. While still feeling bright and summery, notes of autumn are on the breeze, thanks mostly to some of DeMarco’s lyrical preoccupations on the record.
The first and last tracks frame the record, with both discussing DeMarco’s father, with whom he has previously stated that he has a strained relationship.
The closing track of the album, “Watching Him Fade Away” (which is a good place to start an analysis of this album, as it adds some context to previous songs), DeMarco is fighting with himself, wondering if it’s better to call his father and say goodbye or just let him fade away.
While the track doesn’t do much to detail exactly why the relationship took such a turn, it does highlight its sourness, as DeMarco says that this call wouldn’t just be to say goodbye, but would rather be “another chance to tell him off right to his face.”
With that image of DeMarco’s father — or at least the one he wants to paint — in mind, the album’s opening track, “My Old Man,” takes on a somber tone that contrasts its jaunty melody.
“Oh no,” DeMarco says while looking in a mirror. “Looks like I’m seeing more of my old man in me.”
DeMarco seems totally troubled by this apparent transition, and when looked at in conjunction with the closing track, it’s easy to understand why: DeMarco is worried he’s growing into someone he hates.
DeMarco’s troubled mind permeates much of the rest of the record, as he switches the topic from his father to various other troublesome topics, such as past relationships, the aging process and death.
While DeMarco’s musings on aging may seem forced, especially given that he is only 27, it’s important to note that he seems to be looking at aging from the point of view of someone who just realized they’ve been doing it.
As previously noted, DeMarco seems totally surprised to notice the growth in himself (albeit, it’s growth he finds disquieting), rather than saying that it’s been happening for some time.
Similarly, on the album’s title track, while DeMarco does compare himself to an “old dog,” he does so in a way that plays with the concept of “teaching an old dog new tricks.” By comparing himself to an old dog, he says he “ain’t about to forget / all we’ve had.”
He uses his perceived age as a way to prove that he still loves and will still love whomever the intended listener of the track is.
Much of DeMarco’s preoccupation with death on the record seems to come from watching other people grow old and die. Obviously, on the closing track, DeMarco seems concerned whether or not he should just let his father “fade away.”
But DeMarco seems so concerned about death that it works its way into conversations that don’t have much to do with it. In “Moonlight on the River,” he offers this non sequitur in the chorus: “I’m home, there’s moonlight on the river, everybody dies.”
But the most interesting thing about the record is that, without a careful reading of the lyrics, it’s actually pretty easy to miss all of this.
While DeMarco is frequently somber, musically he’s more often just sleepy. The instrumentation on the record is some of the most laid-back around, and DeMarco varies between jaunty upbeat pop songs to songs that are just so chilled out that they’re virtually lullabies.
So what’s with the drastic difference between lyrical themes and musical ones?
Perhaps it serves to highlight some of the changes DeMarco is beginning to go through.
At 27, DeMarco may be beginning to grow concerned about aging and death. But these issues are also still a bit away on the horizon. Lyrically, he’s worried. But musically, everything is going to be just fine.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan
Album: ‘This Old Dog’
Artist: Mac DeMarco
Label: Captured Tracks
Best Track: “My Old Man”