A large part of Mac DeMarco’s appeal—his goofiness, in particular—can be seen in his music videos. The most memorable one might be for Salad Days’ “Chamber of Reflection,” where a chopped-and-screwed version of the song is the backing track for a lonesome, wandering Homer Simpson. Then there’s “One Another,” from his latest This Old Dog (Captured Tracks), where we see an awfully jolly DeMarco just hangin’ around with the Grim Reaper. Once you see the continued fun with masks in the “This Old Dog,” you might think you have a fairly accurate picture of DeMarco. But all of these particular DeMarco representations appear contrary to the actual content of This Old Dog, an album on which we hear DeMarco at his most subdued and reflective.
There’s a reason for This Old Dog’s contemplative direction; the album was at least partially inspired by DeMarco re-engaging with his estranged and cancer-diagnosed father. So themes about the passage of time and outright references to his father show up frequently. “My Old Man” is fairly on the nose. “Oh no,” he reflects, “looks like, I’m seeing more of my old man in me.” Then there’s the morbid but realistic “Watching Him Fade Away,” where DeMarco seems to weigh the value of a father’s death when he wasn’t present in his childhood anyway. “The thought of him no longer being around, well sure it would be sad but not really different,” he admits. “Dreams from Yesterday” mourns a different kind of loss, that of wide-eyed, youthful aspirations. “Once your life is set to settle down,” DeMarco sings. “Take a look around you, no more dreaming to be found.” When hearing him this pensive, it’s difficult to see anything goofy going on with DeMarco the singer-songwriter.
Compositionally, DeMarco doesn’t try harder than he has to. Salad Days and 2 had a certain punchiness to them that This Old Dog makes no attempt to resurrect. Regardless, DeMarco is as tender and warm as ever, primarily employing fuzzed, delightfully cheap-sounding synth (hear “On the Level,” effectively this record’s “Chamber of Reflection”) and acoustic guitar for the music. These timbres lead the way to DeMarco becoming a straight solo crooner, leaving any sort of rock flourishes by the wayside. And even though This Old Dog lacks the charisma of previous records, it otherwise illustrates his consistency and growth as a songwriter. DeMarco and his friends will probably never stop clowning around, but This Old Dog’s deep dive into seriousness shows that he doesn’t have to be assertively goofy for his music to pay off.