This review was originally posted on Redhawk Radio.
“Look in the mirror — What do you see? Someone familiar but surely not me,” Mac DeMarco croons at the opening of his third full-length album, This Old Dog. The theme of aging and unfamiliar maturity pervades the rest of the album, marking a departure from what we’ve come to expect from this lovable goofball, both lyrically and musically.
The name Mac DeMarco typically brings to mind an image of sunny, carefree days and dazed out feelings, but This Old Dog adds an air of melancholy that we haven’t heard from him before. His characteristic bouncy melodies and breezy instrumentation have taken on a bit more emotional weight here, relying mainly on the timbre of his acoustic guitar and synthesizer rather than the electric sounds of his previous releases. These new tracks aren’t sad songs, per say, but they definitely pull at your heartstrings instead of invoking a feel-good haze.
Lyrically, DeMarco’s writing remains simple, but his new songs take on heavier topics than we’ve heard him address before. The album is centered around his relationship with his estranged father, who left the family when DeMarco was 4 years old. “I guess I’m supposed to act like a son to this dude, but at the same time, he’s just some random guy,” DeMarco said in an interview with Pitchfork. The confusion and conflict inherent in this relationship from DeMarco’s perspective are at the heart of the weight pulling down the album’s emotions. “The thought of him no longer being around / Well sure it would be sad but not really different,” he sings on the album’s closer, “Watching Him Fade Away.” Such difficult realizations hint at a more vulnerable side of Mac, perhaps one that has developed with age.
A handful of tracks focus on the end of a romantic relationship, like “One Another” and “One More Love Song.” Juxtaposed with airy synth melodies, their lyrics only add to the album’s melancholy. We can see DeMarco maturing not only in his relationship with his father, but in other painful relationships as well. These songs hint at the passing of time, moving on, and growing up: “It’s not as if you never tried to forget her / But these days are better off without one another.” This newfound maturity, seen in his acceptance and hope, matches the unexpected sadness of the melodies that accompany it. The evolution of DeMarco’s characteristic sound is matched by the emotional growth of his lyrics and promises even more change in the future.
This Old Dog is proof that Mac has indeed grown up, although he definitely hasn’t lost his goofy personality (thankfully). These tracks aren’t complicated, but they don’t need to be. Instead, they reveal more emotional strength than ever before.