At long last, summer appears to be here in the UK. We are a week out from Glastonbury and the weather forecast appears to be hedging gingerly toward “cautiously optimistic”. And the May selection for Rough Trade album of the month sits very nicely in this hazy warm state of bliss. I’m writing this sat in our garden whilst recovering from having my gall bladder removed and this LP is the perfect balm.
“This Old Dog” is Canadian Mac DeMarco’s 3rd LP. I’ve been aware of him for a while and had heard a few of his songs on compilations. I had him pegged in the Beck/Ty Seagall camp – prolific, diverse, a little homespun and a little lo-fi. It seems I may have been right but “This Old Dog” is very very listenable and a bit more on top. It is a solo record with DeMarco playing and producing everything that you hear. The record though seems to move away from a home studio sound and into something that is much more warm and embracing.
Whilst producing his music alone, DeMarco seems to have a close knit group of colleagues around him from his touring musicians, through to the likes of Stefan Marx and Bjenny Montero, who produce his cover art, t-shirts etc. The accompanying Rough Trade Magazine (Issue 14) is pretty much made up of Mac and his mates. In truth, it is impenetrable stuff and I found out little other than Mac likes coffee served cortado style, Prefab Sprout and Thomas Dolby. All fine by me.
Opener “My Old Man” puts me in mind of Iron and Wine. Acoustic guitars, percussion, warm keyboards – a song about growing up – “oh ho, looks like I’m seeing my old man in me“. This is bitter sweet as his father was absent, an alcoholic who wouldn’t pay child support, a man who Mac pointedly has said he doesn’t want to emulate. There’s a rather painful clip on Youtube of him meeting his dad outside of a gig and the father seems to be doing anything to avoid bonding with his son. It is just a little bit heartbreaking. As he sings on the album:
“The thought of him no longer being around / Well sure it would be sad but not really different / And even though we barely know each other / It still hurts watching him fade away.”
The music palette remains pretty constant. The title track is gorgeous – very much in the classic 70s singer song writer vein. “Baby You’re Out” is a little more sprightly. You can hear Jonathan Richman and early Talking Heads coming to the fore.
“For The First Time” picks up those Paddy MacAloon/Kitchenware influences – a beautiful understated love song. The short “Sister” is spare, with just a distorted acoustic guitar for accompaniment and is incredibly touching and personal. It seems like Mac’s family issues aren’t just limited to his father.
Turns out not every dog has his day
So sad, so suddenly gone away
Wish there were more that I could do
Any time you’re hearing this
Sister, know my heart goes out to you
“Dreams From Yesterday” has a bossa nova feel and introduces a little rhythmic variety. It all sits beautifully in that mellow mood, which given some of the underlying sentiment is an achievement in itself.
It turns out that I’ve just missed Mac playing Brixton Academy and going down a storm, judging by the review in the Guardian. He inspires a loyal following and seems to have a public relationship with those members of his family that he is close to such as his mother and girlfriend. I’m not sure how it would translate to a large arena but judging by his popularity, the answer seems to be “pretty well”.
The red coloured vinyl edition with the instrumental versions as a bonus CD has sold out from Rough Trade. It is still available in purple vinyl though and if this weather holds, it might just be one of the soundtracks to the summer.