Mac's newest album features his some of most nuanced and thought-provoking songs yet, as well as a tune about the noise that steam trains make. Choo Choo.
Mac is back. The Canadian indie-rock hero, the mystifying figure behind the songs your annoying hipster housemate keeps playing when you give them the aux cord, presents us with his fourth full-length project. Blithely titled Here Comes the Cowboy due to DeMarco’s personal affinity for calling people “cowboy”, this carefree attitude carries across to the songs. It feels disingenuous to review Cowboy so soon after release, because it falls into that category of albums that need some time to sit. However, as chief DeMarcologist at The Edge, I feel qualified to lay out some thoughts. This release will certainly split the fanbase – half will be wishing for the return of jangly, up-tempo rock songs about girls, cigarettes, just about anything more immediately visceral than Cowboy, whereas the other half will be entranced by this latest twist. A Marmite album if there ever was one.
Slippery, reverb-and-vibrato-heavy guitar tone is perhaps DeMarco’s defining characteristic, but in the last few years it has taken a backseat to more naturalistic sounds. This is not to say that Cowboy has none of this trademark electric flair; ‘Preoccupied’ features some stunning guitar lines, layering onto equally impressive drum work and, strangely, bird song. The result is a wonderfully tranquil and atmospheric song that doesn’t at all feel its length. But “tranquil” is certainly the order of the day, and old-school fans may find tunes like ‘K’, ‘Heart to Heart’, or ‘Skyless Moon’ a downright plod. Fans of a slower pace will find lots to love though, and with patience I’m sure most can be won over by the pure texture of these arrangements. You can honestly hear a pin drop at times. DeMarco, studying at the school of Japanese legends Yellow Magic Orchestra, is becoming a master of deploying glorious synth lines. Look no further than ‘Finally Alone’, ‘On The Square’, or the lead single ‘Nobody’.
Departing from his former label and beginning his own, Mac frees himself from the demands of record execs and has filled Cowboy with tunes that definitely seem as though he wrote them purely for his own enjoyment. This leads to some of the most jarring moments I’ve had listening to an album since I heard the Beatles’ White Album for the first time. Following on from the sublime ‘Preoccupied’ is the absolutely bizarre ‘Choo Choo’, a locomotive-themed love song in the bombastic style of James Brown, featuring just three separate lyrics – “Choo choo/Take a ride with me/You can die with me” – and a train whistle. I’ve listened to it at least ten times and I’m not sure if it’s the worst song on the album or perhaps the best. It makes the album’s title track, which merely repeats “here comes the cowboy” for three minutes over a lurching blues riff, seem innocuous by comparison. And all this is to say nothing of the hidden track after “Baby Bye Bye”, “The Cattleman’s Prayer”. It is truly one of the most ear-catching things Mac has ever put to tape, and that’s as much as I’m willing to spoil. Prepare to do a double take.
Cowboy is an odd album, and my opinion on it will likely have changed by the time this is read. It manages to be both mired in inside jokes and drastically accessible. Chorus and verse lyrics repeat as to lull you into a trance, synths warbling in the background. The instrumentals range from alarmingly sparse to vivid and full; combined with DeMarco’s lackadaisical attitude that brims from each song, some tracks just seem less finished than others. Nonetheless, what you will find on Cowboy are songs that could only have come from one person: Mac DeMarco. Whether that’s a positive is purely subjective.
Here Comes the Cowboy is available now via Mac’s Record Label.