Written by Sam Craft
Twenty-seven year old Canadian Indie-pop artist Mac Demarco has returned with his fifth album, a collection of thirteen songs mostly concerned with his romantic frustrations and personal qualms.
The curious thing about Demarco’s previous records was how well he combined his personal sense of humor with another layer of sincerity, on top of countless memorable melodies and hooks. With his latest release, it's clear that Demarco has moved in a different direction, embracing a less confident side of his personality and accompanying it with folkish guitar parts, subdued drum machines, and the occasional synthesizer texture. A lot of his now well-known style is actually well preserved here but not as immediately recognizable due to his normal chorus-laden guitar tone being replaced with an acoustic guitar for the most part, besides solos and some lead parts. His signature guitar tone does make an appearance still, like on One More Love Song, albeit a bit smoother than it would have been on Salad Days, probably due to switching from his immediately recognizable pawn-shop frankenstein guitar to a Fender Stratocaster as his main guitar.
The previously mentioned song also introduces something new to Demarco’s sonic palette; the acoustic piano, which finds itself climbing melodiously during the chorus. It sits next to his now familiar use of synthesizers, which make themselves known throughout most of the record. The best part is how Demarco lets the more overt parts of his personality take the back seat, so that his talent as a songwriter could drive the car mostly undisturbed for the duration of the trip, while still allowing the silly passenger to speak sometimes.
As a whole, the record seems to be an extension of Demarco’s last release, the “mini-LP”, Another One, which in retrospect seems like it him dipping his toes in the water of a new sound to see how well it was received before diving in for a full length LP soaked in the new sonic flavor. While Another One failed to spark as much enthusiasm in me like Salad Days, 2, and even Rock and Roll Nightclub did, I think that This Old Dog has the potential to, albeit in less of a goofy, relaxed, summery way, and more of an introspective manor. Kind of like how 2 and Salad Days were largely the soundtrack to my sophomore and some of my junior years of high-school, I can see Another One planting itself in the end of my Senior year and the following summer. This Old Dog sounds like it woke itself up at four in the morning after blacking out earlier that night to see that he made it on a couch, and now he’s looking around at all the other sleeping souls in the room and looking back at what the fuck happened. This record is music to reflect to.
To be honest, this album wasn’t really doing much for me, and I even rolled my eyes a little when I realized it was basically an extension of Another One, but something about it feels like it will grow on me with time. The song that really changed my opinion on the album was For the First Time, which feels like a spiritual successor to Chamber of Reflection, one of Demarco’s best songs. It’s a great middle ground between the synth-heavy sound a lot of fans clamoured for Mac to pursue after they first listened to Chamber, while also proving that Mac’s newer sound was the right direction for a dog getting closer to his thirties.
It would probably be a mistake not to mention Moonlight on the River, which, at just over seven minutes is Demarco’s longest song to date. It features the now familiar acoustic guitar beside his usual chorus-soaked guitar tone and synth textures. Foregoing his somewhat strict adherence to verse-chorus-verse song structure, the song builds to a psychedelic crescendo and transitions nicely into the final number on the album, watching him fade away. The track, which is just vocals and keys, serves as much as an open letter to his father as it is a vehicle of self-reflection for the singer-songwriter.
An eight out of ten feels generous for a record I’m not entirely sold on yet, but I can feel it growing on me like most. It’s a mature effort that corrects the errors of Another One, and combines the best elements that Demarco is known for. If his last two records were candy, This Old Dog is like coffee at an IHOP at two in the morning.