With “This Old Dog,” slacker-rock poet Mac DeMarco takes a logical and constructive step forward in sound and style. The album’s title along with tracks like “My Old Man,” “Still Beating” and “Dreams of Yesterday,” it appears Mac is grappling with getting older. “Look in the mirror, who do you see?/Someone familiar, surely not me” he sings to open the record.
However, it’s not an album that specifically deals with growing older, so much as it deals with capital ‘L’ life — which obviously involves growing older — on a personal and general level.
The overall tone of the album is congruent with that contemplative theme. The album is slower, softer, more lush than his previous full length LPs “Salad Days” and “2”. However, it certainly takes cues from previous tracks like “Chamber Of Reflection” and “Another One”.
His voice is drawn out and lingers, sounding like a Lennon-combination-Young. His voice is surrounded by acoustic guitar, synthesizers, smatterings of a drum machine, and the oscillating chorus of an electric guitar.
The album features acoustic guitar more prominently than any of his other records, as well as a rare harmonica on “A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes,” which blends sweetly with Andy White’s guitar solo.
One thing that has remained constant throughout each of Mac Demarco’s releases is the near virtuoso level of lead guitar. Whether it’s White, former guitarist Pete Sagar (Homeshake), or Mac himself.
“This Old Dog” has a more experimental feel, specifically with “Moonlight On The River,” DeMarco’s longest track by about three minutes. The song is slow, carried by a steady acoustic melody, chorus heavy lead guitar, and lush keyboards, and regresses into a Beatle/MGMT-esque breakdown of echoing horror-score-like guitar and synth reversals.
The album opens and closes with songs that seem to be about Mac’s father, whom he did not know well growing up. “Uh-oh looks like I’m starting to see more of my old man in me,” sings DeMarco on the opening track, which is an interesting use of cliché considering his past. This contradiction sets the tone lyrically for the album.
“This Old Dog” is Demarco’s most serious album in terms of subject matter. However, his work always held the contradiction of slacker/goofball and insightful lyricist.
The final track of the album, “Watching Him Fade Away” delves deeper into this notion. It reveals a confliction between how he feels and how he thinks he should feel. Despite wanting to tell his father off, the chorus runs “And even though we barely know each other/It still hurts watching him fade away, watching him fade away.”
“Watching Him Fade Away” is the most intimate song on the album. The song features only the dreamy keyboard that appears throughout the album and Mac’s voice.
Despite some fantastic tracks throughout his discography (“Cooking Up Something Good,” “Passing Out Pieces,” “Chamber Of Reflection”), “This Old Dog” is DeMarco’s strongest release. And coming in at 13 songs and 43 minutes, it is also his longest.