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Album Review: Mac DeMarco - Here Comes The Cowboy

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2017’s This Old Dog saw Canadian indie legend Mac DeMarco embark on an extensive touring schedule that often involved protracted jamming, nudity and crowd surfing, and sometimes all at once. Here Comes The Cowboy rides the wave of this success but unlike the proverbial tide, it proves not to be an endlessly renewable energy source.

Album Art 'Here Comes The Cowboy' (2019)

If you thought This Old Dog was low key relative to the epic sounds to be found on singles such as ‘Chamber of Reflection’ from 2014’s Salad Days, then, my goodness, is this album understated. On This Old Dog, it felt like the lethargy was at least backed by excellent songwriting. Here, there is hardly a skeleton to support the bare-bones approach.

The title track is a case in point. Its exact three-minute length does not constitute pop succinctness. It’s little more than a glorified loop. While the country-blues guitar riff is a sweet lick, without variation it becomes tiresome. The minimalist drums consisting of tame rim shots and the odd kick, and Mac’s deep, isolated vocals announcing the eponymous herdsman’s approach do something, but the cowboy, however, never really arrives.

This is followed by ‘Nobody’, which is the best song on the album. Mac DeMarco is capable of stripping it back without losing depth and pathos. The track is subtle without being so minimal as to become boring. A mournful synth line lingers in the background, harkening back to a tone developed on 2017’s album. It lyrically explores pressures of fame and an impossible return to anonymity – “There’s no turning back / To nobody”.

If becoming a stranger in a crowd is impossible, then in solitude it seems more achievable. ‘Finally Alone’ expresses a desire to escape, even if the getaway is “somewhere mundane”. Next on the track listing is ‘Little Dogs March’, which is one of the laziest moments on a lethargic album. That’s not to say it’s unpleasant, it just feels like B-side material.

‘Preoccupation’ further develops the sentiment that ‘Finally Alone’ leaves on and discusses the often-terrifying prospect of being left alone with your thoughts in lyrics such as, “no conversation to ease up your mind”. Following this is the steam train whistle of ‘Choo Choo’, which is a sonic departure into desert-dry funk. Unfortunately, this isn’t picked up on and it’s more of a sketch than a song.

Mac abandons introspection on the love song ‘K’, presumably dedicated to his long-term girlfriend Kiera, which although sweet is insubstantial overall. The romance continues on ‘Heart to Heart’ with its addictive synth tone, but it’s at this point one can’t help feeling that we’ve heard these sounds before. To complete this lovesick mini-trilogy, we have ‘Hey Cowgirl’, which, rather unoriginally pays lip service to the overarching theme by asking, “will you stay on the farm, will you come back with me?

After three mediocre tracks, Mac almost succeeds in saving the album with the songs ‘On the Square’ and ‘All Of Our Yesterdays’, inspired by Macbeth. The former featuring a gorgeous descending synth melody and the latter a 2-esque shimmering chorus. ‘Bye Bye Bye’, the closer, has as little lyrical content as the opener but it features a dangerously funky coda, which while bereft of depth, at least leaves you a smile.

Here Comes The Cowboy is a definite dip from hipster darling Mac DeMarco but it’s not enough to make you lose faith, and there are plenty of highlights despite the inconsistencies. First-class songwriting is on display in a couple of tracks and there are glimmers of new ideas generally occluded by the ubiquity of middle-of-the-road, throwaway, unfinishedness.

Here Comes The Cowboy is out now via Mac's Record Label.




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