Mac Demarco’s third studio album may be more of the familiar indie rock cross jangle pop we’ve come to expect from him, but somehow that classic formula still manages to impress on This Old Dog. Despite the addition of drum machines and synthesizers into the mix, the slacker-singer-songwriter’s latest has still got that jangly, lazy charm about it, bringing together both the moody indie rock of Salad Days and the vintage pop ballads of 2015’s mini LP Another One into a project that’s part throwback pop and part folksy blues.
Opening track My Old Man might begin with an off-kilter drum machine beat, but as soon as Mac’s signature guitar joins in, things immediately start to feel very Salad Days-y – but that’s far from a bad thing. Mac’s love affair with analog synths and vintage machinery that really showed itself on Another One is just as present on This Old Dog. Plenty of these new tracks showcase their lo-fi, throwback appeal; glitzy bells on For the First Time, Latin-esque electronics on Dreams from Yesterday, even subdued, cloudy pads on On the Level. Mac’s mantra seems to be keep it simple; there’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking going on here, but that throwback sound is something he most definitely does well.
Mac’s bluesy, part freak-folksy, almost John Lennon sounding vocals return to haunt the halls of This Old Dog’s thirteen tracks. His vocal performances are crisp, yet loose – too perfect and he wouldn’t match the idling, low fidelity instrumentals beneath his voice. Every track is sort of carefully cultivated, near perfect but not quite, in the best way possible. Mac’s sound has always been minimal, but This Old Dog appears to be his most sparse record – but once again, in the best way possible. It’s less fast moving jangle pop, and more slow burning love ballads that hark back in time with a Demarco touch.
In terms of his whole career too, some of Mac’s strongest and most refined material comes together for this latest project. There’s tracks like the folksy opener My Old Man, an introspective look into Demarco’s relationship with his father, and then more classic sounding tunes drawing on Mac’s hopeless romantic side, like Baby You’re Out or Still Beating. The sparkly, almost neo-psychedelic For the First Time stands out amongst a range of bluesy indie balalds, while the folksy Latin soft-rock on Dreams from Yesterday draws immediate comparisons with Devendra Banhart. And then there’s One More Love Song – moody guitar, synthesizers, floating piano chords, all culminating in one those typical smooth, dreamlike hooks.
Harmonicas and folksy guitars on tracks like A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes might draw from country traditions, but there’s just as many quiet, melancholic vocal driven tracks like the short but sweet Sister or the endlessly sad closer Watching Him Fade Away. It’s an album, much like Mac’s others, that starts warm, but ends cold. On the Level is a synthy soft rock ballad with a captivating bass groove, but it’s penultimate track Moonlight on the River that the album’s highest point. It begins bluesy, lethargic, melancholic – but it slowly builds, as haunting synths and a harrowing guitar line drift in and out of the track. Frightening, ethereal noise and ambience overpowers the second half of the track, as Mac is slowly swallowed up in the otherworldly clouds he’s created. It’s by far one of Mac’s most interesting and experimental tracks, drawing on progressive and psychedelic rock more than ever before.
This Old Dog ran the risk of being just another Mac Demarco record, and in many ways it is, but Mac’s talent and slacker charm makes it more than that. Despite similarities with past material, it’s hard to grow bored of someone with such consistency and such appeal to universal emotions. This Old Dog is as much old folksy, indie rock Mac, as it is new synthy, melancholic Mac – but both Macs are rooted in their appreciation of that vintage, throwback sound and its lo-fi reinvention.