Mac DeMarco creates a body of work that will sustain and grow over time with his release, " Here Comes The Cowboy"
Written by Waylon O'Day
MLM Rating: 8 out of 10
Since the release of his critically-acclaimed 2014 album, Salad Days, Mac Demarco has maintained his position as one of the most recognizable faces in indie music, putting out albums every other year. However, none of them have ever seemed to reach the success of Salad Days; 2015’s Another One EP felt like B-sides of it’s predecessor, while 2017’s This Old Dog did present a somewhat new sonic palette, the project still relied heavily on already established Mac-motifs.
Demarco’s latest release, Here Comes the Cowboy, is a continuation of this trend as the album is the most minimalistic release in Demarco’s lengthy discography, while still relying on the same tricks as previous releases. Though the album can seem like a slog through the mud that offers little more than meets the ear at times, it is one of the deepest albums from the enigmatic Canadian indie goofballs.
The titular opening track sets the tone with a minimalistic background featuring just drums, guitar, and Demarco, who only speaks the name of the album for three minutes, announcing the arrival of the album’s protagonist, the Cowboy. On “Nobody,” the listener is given a chance to walk a mile in The Cowboy’s shoes, who is perceived as a “creature” by those he meets, only accompanied by a somber horn, a snail’s pace snare, and lonely plucks from a guitar in sore need of tuning. Sonically, “Finally Alone,” is brighter than its predecessors, as we follow the Cowboy on his travels, in a perpetual search for a place where he can be just be normal, but as soon as the shine wears off from his new home, he hits the road again.
Realizing that his search is futile, the Cowboy reconciles that he’ll probably never be looked at as normal on “Little Dogs March,” but seems resentful about this as demonstrated by Demarco’s crooning of the chorus, and the sullen guitar which begs to lash out. The Cowboy completely comes to terms with his dilemma from the previous track on “Preoccupied” in a peaceful, almost euphoric setting with beautiful, melodic guitar licks as the gently thumping bass and congas reach a crescendo. It is in this setting that the Cowboy comes to an epiphany and no longer blames people seeing him as a creature, and instead blames society for making people think he was a creature. This enlightenment is personified on “Choo Choo,” as the Cowboy takes a funky train ride that George Clinton would approve of.
On “K,” we come to understand that the Cowboy is Mac himself and the metaphor of him being a creature alludes to the crippling loneliness of fame, as he sings a song for his longtime girlfriend, Kiera over a sparse acoustic guitar. The Cowboy mourns the death of a close friend on “Heart to Heart,” which Demarco revealed as tribute to the late Mac Miller, as Demarco sings softly over a jazzy piano and bass duet, with the occasional flourishes of symphonic tremolos. The Cowboy courts a Cowgirl on “Hey Cowgirl,” presumably about the titular “K,” and tries to entice her into joining him in the city with a playfully sensual voice over twangy guitar and rhythmically backing bass.
“Mac Demarco may not be the best singer, he might not be the best musician, but what has always gotten him by, musically, is his songwriting, and Here Comes the Cowboy, is just another testament to Demarco’s abilities.”
The Cowboy lends a word of advice on “On the Square,” as he plays into his creature persona singing over a sinister piano, and haunting synth keys, warning those who want to follow in his footsteps that it’s far from easy. On “All of Our Yesterdays,” the Cowboy again reflects on his life, and warns not to let life pass you by over, in one of the most characteristically Mac Demarco tracks on the album, complete with twangy, dissonant guitar melodies and Mac singing way above his vocal register. As the album winds down, so too does our Cowboy on “Skyless Moon,” as the Cowboy begins to change with the time over sullen synths and a softly plucked guitar melody. Finally on “Baby Bye Bye,” we say goodbye to the Cowboy as he enters the next chapter of his journey, first telling the listener goodbye sadly, then with some amount of glee in his voice as the guitar strums grow louder and more pronounced, and a whole band of brass, keys, and strings joins in the refrain, and the number of voices grows, before they fade. The Cowboy is gone, and all we hear is silence. Then, a funky rejoice can be heard as the cowboy yells “yee-haw,” finally completing his sad story, with a happy ending.
Today it seems the best albums seem to have some sort of narrative structure built within them; TPAB, MBDTF, Blonde, FlowerBoy. Because of this we often project our desire for there to be a narrative where there shouldn’t be, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do this for other albums. When first hearing this album, it’s easy to brush it off as just watered down indie-pop trash, but upon second or third listen, you can start to connect the dots of the albums, nail down a theme, and see that what you first thought was just a cash-grab of an album is actually a complex look at what it’s like to be famous and how lonely that sort of status can be, as demonstrated by the minimalistic, somber nature of the better part of the album. Mac Demarco may not be the best singer, he might not be the best musician, but what has always gotten him by, musically, is his songwriting, and Here Comes the Cowboy, is just another testament to Demarco’s abilities.
Stream the project below.