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Dealing With Bonds to Others:“This Old Dog”

Written by Noa Graham

Released May of 2017, “This Old Dog,” by Canadian artist McBriare Samuel Lanyon “Mac” DeMarco, exists as my anthem to the transition of summery love into wintry cruelty. Arpeggiated electric guitar melodies, a blend of synth chords, and a simple percussive rock rhythm characterized the last hit album, “Salad Days” (2014), as a signature cheesy bowl ‘o’ Mac DeMarco™. It set the stage for DeMarco’s entry into the international spotlight, and this latest release experiments under the spotlight of global listeners, edging away from the electronic sounds of our musical era with a fresh use of acoustic guitar riffs and chords. One track, “A Wolf Who Wears Sheep’s Clothes,” even adds the soulful pitches of the harmonica. But the synth is never far away in any tune, typical of DeMarco. His most conventional pop-esque tracks, “On the Level” and “For the First Time,” use arpeggiated synth chords to drag out the melody into a pleasantly melancholic tone. Otherwise, melodies are driven mostly by use of acoustic, electric, and bass guitar, harmonized to electrically-synthesized tones and percussive rock rhythms into cheerful high tempo ditties and low tempo chilled-out airs.

I’ve listened to choice songs more than I can count, treating each as a laxative pill thickly coated in raw honey. What DeMarco’s music helps me do so well is face the inevitable shit-torrent of life with an added personal sweetness. His subject matter is abstract but relatable, making his melodramatic ballads an excellent background to my own vitriolic brooding and cynical self-celebrations. I believe Mac’s album is about me, and I believe it can be about you too, if you listen to it often enough.

Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of Mac in de album. His first song, “My Old Man,” refers to DeMarco’s distant relationship with his father, and how despite that, DeMarco sees more of his father in the mirror everyday. Mortality is a universal conflict among humanity, and DeMarco introduces this concept clearly in the first verse:

Look in the mirror/Who do you see?/Someone familiar/But surely not me/For it can’t be me/Look how old and cold and tired and lonely he’s become”.

The physical analogy of aging is an anxious one. Celebrating his 33rd birthday this year, referenced in the album cover’s repeated use of the number 33, DeMarco muses on his increased signs of aging. But the up-beat acoustics of this track don’t let on the melancholic feelings of betrayal by youth-hood. The reminder of our mortality remains as a cause of anxiety until we see “There’s a price tag hanging off of having all that fun,” which should liberate us.

As we age, the taste of love seems to bitter with experience. DeMarco delves into this sentiment through the next bulk of songs in the album, kicking it off in its title track “This Old Dog.” Cold-hearted feelings form around people familiar and close to us. Regardless, we cherish memories of joy with those faces. We can’t forget the happiness we share with undeniably special people in our lives. “This Old Dog,” followed by “Baby You’re Out,” drive the point home. Of course, DeMarco doesn’t let us off the love train easily, and the next three songs deal with the grief of break-up in the sweet memories of good times, reaching catharsis in “Sister.”

“Dreams from Yesterday” wrestles with achieving success but not meeting the other dreams and ambitions that pushed us to that point. DeMarco has displayed interest and talent in filmmaking with the music videos of past years. Low production short-films with interesting cinematography are a DeMarco video staple, and the music video of “One Another” acts as a good example. There may be an unrealized dream in film for DeMarco. “A Wolf Who Wears Sheep’s Clothes” presents an interesting message of dealing with the various opinions and biases of people in the world surrounding us. We’re all vulnerable to ideological conflict, and it’s easy to take on the greater-than-thou attitude, but DeMarco suggests it’s better to enjoy life and what you make of it rather than let other people twist things around for you.

With a touch of comedic irony, DeMarco presents us with “One More Love Song.” And it’s exactly that: an anthem to relationships formed and fostered, but ultimately brittle.

Finally, the last three songs, “On the Level,” “Moonlight on the River,” and “Watching Him Fade Away” return to the album’s theme of dealing with DeMarco’s problematic relationship with his absent father. “Boy, this could be your year/Make an old man proud of you” are the lines of a conflicted son whose accomplishment is only measured relative to the father, whom he surpasses by normative conventions. Interviews reveal that DeMarco’s father left the family under the influence of drugs, and that his father returned this year after being diagnosed with cancer-a tough situation no doubt.

The album serves as a great piece of healing music, harmonizing to the troubles of DeMarco’s listeners as he sings through those in his own life. An artist doesn’t measure his or her success through the next advance, but through the betterment of the lives of their patrons. In this, DeMarco stays true to form with a sweetly bitter album. There is something for everyone in listening to it.

About the author

Noa Graham