Here comes the cowboy / Here comes the cowboy / Here comes the cowboy,” ad infinitum. The lyric(s) of the album opener and title track of Mac DeMarco’s fifth full-length studio record — and his first under his own label rather than long-term partners Captured Tracks — leave one thinking that this might be one of his most minimal yet. And indeed it is, as DeMarco pushes the successful but straightforward formula that has come to define his style (the self-labelled “jizz-jazz” consisting of unprocessed vocals, a couple of guitars, simple drums, bass, and a sprinkling of synths) in a further stripped-back direction, picking up from the acoustic-guitar-and-dreamy-synth-based tracks that formed a key part of 2017’s This Old Dog.
Here Comes the Cowboy was recorded in a couple of weeks this past January, out of DeMarco’s garage in a rainy LA (you can even hear the rain petering in and out of a few tracks on the album). Such a scene goes hand-in-hand with the sound and songwriting on this record, which is perhaps also best enjoyed as the soundtrack to chilling indoors on a rainy day or soothing a post-New Years-scale hangover — this cowboy ain’t riding through the Wild West. Don’t let the simple production fool you, however: while the album might be a reduced version of the Mac we know, and does drag in a place or two, the highlights on this record showcase the essence of what earned DeMarco his status as a modern poster-boy of indie — Here Comes the Cowboy features some of Mac DeMarco’s finest work to date.
Part of that has to do with the lyrical content of this album: the semi-introspective, casual rumination on love and life on this album might not seem much different from any on Mac’s past work, but look closer and you’ll see that this cowboy is also singing about being fed-up with the complexities of modern life (perhaps explaining some of the basic writing and production choices on the album) and burden of his own fame. Across the cuts on this record Mac sings about how “there’s no turning back to nobody” and “no second chance” for “the creature on television”, being “sick of the city” and wanting to be alone, a mind being “filled” with “bullshit”, and the bittersweet feeling that a “dream” isn’t over even when “all of our yesterdays have gone.”
But far from seeming like the whinging complaints of a privileged celebrity, DeMarco’s songwriting feels particularly authentic, thanks to the restrained production and instrumentation, which often foregrounds his voice (his crooning on ‘Skyless Moon’ is a personal highlight) – and the fact that we as listeners have directly witnessed the growing fame underpinning many of the lyrics on this album. Further, moments on this record feel like an admission of regret from the ever-cool-cowboy over actions taken in the public eye.
DeMarco might not be asking for our sympathy, but it’s hard not to feel some when a figure who has become somewhat of a reference point in contemporary meme culture (admittedly at the result of their own actions), laments not being able to be “nobody” for once.
On the flip side, DeMarco hasn’t missed the opportunity of his label-freedom to give us a few wild and outrageous moments on this album (I won’t spoil them all), from his bold decision to start the record with the same phrase repeated over and over for a perfect three minutes, to his mimicking a steam engine on ‘Choo Choo’. It might be out of place, ridiculous, and musically non-groundbreaking, but one can’t help enjoy seeing Mac let go and enjoy himself on this record, be that in these bizarre moments or the album’s bare-bones, garage-DIY production that leaves each track at the mercy of its songwriting only: since there’s no turning back, might as well continue making the most of it, right? In addition, there are a few tracks, ‘All of Our Yesterdays’ in particular, that really feel like classic Mac, even with their fairly hands-off production. All of this makes for an album that, in its totality, might seem like a watered-down version of the same-old to some fans, and too-laid back to others, but nonetheless contains material to appeal to both. This isn’t Mac DeMarco’s best album, but it does merit a few listens, which will hopefully reveal to the listener that some tracks really do marry composition, production, and lyrics well enough to make them highlights of his career thus far.
- 3.5 stars