Rock and roll rapscallion Mac Demarco must be the hardest working ‘slacker’ in the business. Constantly touring and with a shiny new album out every calendar flip, he’s a hell of a lot more proactive than his goofball persona might lead you to believe. In the midst of a particularly prolific period, he’s just ditched his old label Captured Tracks in favour of releasing his new record, Here Comes The Cowboy, on his own. Supporting the release with a massive tour, he’ll play at Halifax’s beautiful Piece Hall on the 27 June. With Yellow Days, Amyl and The Sniffers announced as special guests, this should be a corker.
Finding the limelight with albums 2 (2012) and Salad Days (2014), Mac’s early releases served up a casual, lived-in kind of jangle pop. Characterised by twangy guitars and languid vocals, tracks like ‘Ode To Viceroy’ were intoxicating and full of character. For many, that character became inextricably linked with the gap-toothed prankster that Mac played in interviews. There is, though, greater depth to these records. Lyrically, there’s a lot of heartbreak and anxiety there: “What mom don’t know has taken its toll on me… It’s hard to believe what it’s made of me”, he sings in ‘Passing Out Pieces’. Of course, this kind of seriousness is nearly always undercut by self-deprecating mockery. In ‘Blue Boy’, for example – a track about the fear of judgement – he signs of with the final smirk: “calm down, sweetheart, grow up”. Placed next to straight-up brooders like Kurt Vile (fellow so-called ‘slacker’), this light/dark interplay felt really refreshing.
Whilst these records were lauded the world over, a slightly worrying question that most critics asked was… Where can Mac go from here? With 2017’s This Old Dog, he let us know. Pushing his excellent song-writing to the fore, he decided to open up on this record, specifically with regards to the relationship (or lack thereof) with his then-recently deceased father. Juxtaposing weighty lyrics with ever-breezy music, these songs were expertly crafted – concise and focussed, whilst retaining just enough of that sloppy charm to keep them loveable. ‘My Old Man’ is a profound yet wonderfully simple opener in which Mac recoils at the sight of his father within himself. Things get even more real in ‘Watching Him Fade Away’, an examination of Mac’s grief over a father who was, in many ways, already absent. Elsewhere there are some cracking love songs. Sparkly new synths and a drum machine are used to gorgeous effect in ‘For the First Time’, a smooth-as-silk love song to rival 2’s ‘My Kind of Woman’. All of this felt like a great artistic step for ole Mac.
Mac proves once again that this old dog’s got legs.
At this point we’d seen Mac in prankster mode and we’ve seen him in serious mode. In what mood might we find him in 2019? The answer is tangled up with the fact that the world is stranger and scarier today than it has been in some years. Escapism and sheer weirdness were thus the order of the day for last month’s Here Comes The Cowboy. Finding comfort in the thought of a simpler existence, Mac runs with a bizarre Western motif here, using cartoonish figures of city-dreaming cowboys and farm-gazing urbanites to spin his own stories. In the goofily romantic ‘Hey Cowgirl’, Mac tries to draw a country girl away from her starry-skied farm in order to “watch some TV” in the city. ‘Little Dogs March’, meanwhile, begins in earnest, lamenting the passing of somebody’s glory days, before the chorus reveals that that somebody is in fact a “mature little doggy”.
Though presented half-jokingly there, this past-the-best-days theme is one that runs through the album. “There’s No Turning Back”, Mac sighs tiredly in the lead single, ‘Nobody’. All nostalgic about his pre-fame days, this is a delightful, syrupy ballad whose dainty guitar plucks and muffled drum hits sink into the wooziest horn line you’ve ever heard. ‘All of Our Yesterdays’ starts in a similar fashion as Mac stands forlornly in the shadow of a breakup, before things bloom towards a gorgeously lush close and he veers down a more optimistic path: “That don’t mean your dream is over / That don’t make your heart beat slower”. Never one to dwell for too long, Mac does more than balance these contemplative moments with oddball whimsy in the likes of ‘Choo Choo’ as well as the inexplicably funky ‘Baby Bye Bye’, whose falsetto vocals close the record in ludicrous fashion.
Featuring all the playfulness of the loveable rascal we first fell in love with, and all of the lyrical and musical adeptness of his last record, Mac proves once again that this old dog’s got legs. Ever-praised for his fun-loving shows and outrageous on-stage antics, his gigs, even more than his records, guarantee that you leave with a smile. Though he’s returning to these shores later in the year, Mac’s gig on the 27 June is a particularly great opportunity to catch him live. The Piece Hall is a beautiful venue and the supporting line-up of Yellow Days, Amyl and The Sniffers is pretty excellent. If you’re a fan and you’re close by, it’s a no-brainer.