Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mac DeMarco - This Old Dog Review

When Indie began rapidly expanding in popularity, around the turn into the 2010's, faces, personalities, and quirks began to become the main calling card of the genre's most popular artists. Previously, Indie musicians reveled in their nondescript nature, a surefire side effect of purposefully circumventing the actions of the mainstream. However, as the Internet continues to conglomerate music far and wide, peculiar voices and stereotypical personalities have come to represent the genre. Father John Misty, Sufjan Stevens, Grimes, really anyone who can be made a meme out of. Mac DeMarco's undeniably one of those names, personifying the laid back hipster slacker so precisely I still question whether it's meant to be ironic. That was how he garnered his fame, by chilling on the couch writing love ballads with his guitar, welcoming in fans who had always wished to make money doing the same. It was always DeMarco's carelessness that drove me to being careless over his music. Shallow as a puddle, repetitive in execution, lacking in originality, DeMarco never amused me enough with his outsider charm to believe in the bland music at hand. That changes with This Old Dog, a pivotal LP that finds the once-goof-off maturing just in time to see his youth fade away.

This Old Dog was a long time coming. Suffice to say, I never thought it would even arrive. As DeMarco's Indie-flaunting counterpart Father John Misty funneled down the drain of no return, releasing the overly-ostentatious Pure Comedy, my hopes for DeMarco to not carry down the same stereotyped path was slim. They're polar opposites of each other, as one cares about everything, the other cares about nothing, but, prior to This Old Dog, I wouldn't have put it past DeMarco to create something so absentminded, for irony sake. Hell, 2015 introduced us to Another One, a mini-LP that quite literally spelt out its worthlessness in the title. And while 2014's Salad Days faired better, the triviality made it so the most memorable aspect was that of its frivolousness. Talk about a change then that the defining aspect of This Old Dog is DeMarco's growth into becoming a man. This, centered around the complicated death of his father, a man for whom DeMarco had a insincere relationship with, but one who meant enough to cause this album to exist. With the intro and outro alone, DeMarco has easily crafted his most deeply personal and affecting music to date.

At 13 tracks, there's instances where the gap-tooth treads into familiar territory, but the best joints are those in which character development occurs. Those two aforementioned cuts are essential in this, as DeMarco finding traces of his father in him on 'My Old Man' go on to explain why 'Watching Him Fade Away' is such a challenging thing to overcome. The relationship never mended before it terminated, leaving DeMarco empty, uneasy, and bitter; three words never used to describe his music before. It also brings out the value of Singer/Songwriter when the lyrics are created from the heart, rather than to fit a cliché such as DeMarco's relational melodramas. On Salad Days and Another One's 19 combined songs, the word 'her' appears in five different titles. Original ideas were at a premium. But on This Old Dog that 'her' never once arrives physically, only through disguise. Sure, 'Baby You're Out,' 'For The First Time,' and 'One More Love Song' play straight into that DeMarco adage, but they merely represent This Old Dog's worst material, not its only. DeMarco's third LP turns its focus towards family, and the nostalgic visions of the past, both good and bad.

While DeMarco took a definitive leap in terms of content, the musical edges don't progress all that much, despite the fact that This Old Dog is better suited for his aesthetic. Much of the production styles here can be seen as 2.0's of his past, like the dimly-lit synths of 'For The First Time' and 'On The Level,' the innocent Jangle Pop of 'Baby You're Out' and 'A Wolf Who Wears Sheep's Clothes,' or the slight folksy guitar twang of 'Still Beating' and 'My Old Man.' There isn't anything new in this regard, apart from the structural changes, both in song and album-wide, that cause each moment to feel beefier, brighter, and more fleshed out. Two tracks in particular, 'Sister' and 'Moonlight On The River' sport this, as the former's one-minute is the first for DeMarco in five years, the latter's five-plus the first for DeMarco ever. They both also constitute high marks for This Old Dog, as 'Sister' wallows in the angst of a family being torn apart, while 'Moonlight' excels by being DeMarco's first attempt at creating something ambitious. The seven-minute peak point begins with typical DeMarco truisms, but ends with a lengthy instrumental relapse of crashing sounds, textures, and noises that's entirely unlike anything he's accomplished before.

This Old Dog succeeds in doing two things I never felt DeMarco was capable of; progressing with what he's been known to do, and trying something new. Musically-speaking, This Old Dog finds the slacker moving beyond his apathetic stage, combining the simple Jangle Pop of the past with polished structuring of the present. Now sure, in relative terms, DeMarco's developments are minimal, as a solid chunk of This Old Dog relies on overused cliches that constantly remind me of his actual talents as a musician. Tracks like 'One More Love Song,' 'For The First Time,' and 'Still Beating' diminish the strength in numbers elsewhere, feeling inexplicably similar to any number of previous DeMarco cuts, but there's enough here, whether it be skill, charm, or passion, to negate the offhanded reboots. Like the scatterbrained art displayed on the cover, This Old Dog features a handful of tangible facets that almost anyone can enjoy. Another One, and to some extent Salad Days, was excruciatingly one-dimensional, inviting only to those who appreciated DeMarco's primitiveness in the first place. Here, Singer/Songwriter, Jangle Pop, Synthpop, and Folk become one. With This Old Dog, DeMarco rebuffed the idiom "you can't teach an old dog new tricks."

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