Mac DeMarco: Here Comes the Cowboy - Album Review
Here Comes the Cowboy isn’t without highlights, but mostly symbolizes an artist’s growing pains, transitioning from one lifestyle to another.
Mac DeMarco has always been the front of the background. Whether he’s appearing in summer edits, the crappy speaker at your friend’s pool party, or on the stage at Coachella, “radio ready” has never been part of his sound, though his music calls to a time in California pop history where they may have had a place in the masses. Shedding the indie-boy upstart energies he rode for years, 2019 Mac has (in a way) settled down, now recording solely out of his LA home studio and releasing for the first time on his own record label. Here Comes the Cowboy, his first album in two years, is a response to partying, draped in melancholy and sticky basslines. It aims for soft-rock subtlety, but more often than not, can be reduced to the word that has long evaded DeMarco’s antics: boring.
Here Comes the Cowboy is a low point in Mac DeMarco’s career. There, now it’s said, and we can move on to why, and what’s alright about it. His formula (4/4 drums, prominent bass, lazy reverb-soaked guitar) lacks the potency of refinement albums like Salad Days, and DeMarco seems to know it. Songs are either wildly removed from his usual stomping grounds or regressions to the basics of his signature style. DeMarco’s albums, though they often threatened to homogenize into one 45-minute twang, never lacked in immediate songwriting; the moaning on “Skyless Moon” may as well be the mood of Cowboy; a sullen, receding feeling that presents only two options, to turn the record off or leave it on as you fall asleep.
Despite it’s safe singles, Cowboy is DeMarco’s most musically diverse record yet. Not every track begins with a mid-tempo drum beat or yacht-rock guitar jangle. Instead there are songs like the title track, a pleasant-enough opener that repeats the titular phrase with eerie, looming mystery. When revisiting his work, it’s hard not to hear DeMarco as one of two things: rambunctious hedonist, or reflective observer. Here Comes the Cowboy offers a new, if mostly hollow set of moods for DeMarco to tackle, to varying degrees of success.
The wild screams on the second half of “Baby Bye Bye” are ridiculous in just the right way, completely erasing the forgettable chord changes and chorus of the track it occupies. Moments like this see DeMarco experimenting with funk clearer than ever before, without the guise of spindling guitars and load-bearing basslines. “Choo Choo,” the album’s only other experiment, relies on repeated effects and an even-hollower lyrical sentiment to remain chugging; it can’t be saved by funk-rock, or the once-inherent likability of DeMarco indulging in his influences.
Where Cowboy stumbles trying to move beyond DeMarco’s core sound, it sits comfortably beside Another One when it relies on the past. “K” is as lovely as any of the best ballads on 2 or This Old Dog; it’s the album’s “Let My Baby Stay,” and while it didn’t make much of a statement upon release, “Nobody” shines in the context of Cowboy as the leanest and most effective number. Muted palm-strokes, a simple lyrical theme, and subtle production; it’s one of many ultra low-key tunes on Cowboy, somewhat numbing its effect as a window into DeMarco’s ever-shifting psyche.
DeMarco’s wordplay has routinely involved the bored, out-of-place archetypes of suburbia. Boys smoking cigarettes, absent fathers, swooning lovers; his last LP, This Old Dog, brought lyrics to the forefront on songs like “My Old Man,” which saw DeMarco confronting the possibility of becoming more and more like his less-than perfect dad. It also saw him toying with his themes on “One More Love Song”’s breezy chorus. This Old Dog ends with “Watching Him Fade Away,” a warm lullaby to conclude troubled singer’s diaristic journey. A repeated statement echoes DeMarco’s final thoughts on his father, that even though he was hardly there for Mac, it still hurts to see him fade away. Here Comes the Cowboy sees DeMarco heading toward that same chilled-out, uncaring fate, through songwriting that takes no risks, has no motive, and has been done better before. Like Another One, it has value, but only as a stopgap, this time without the guarantee that something better is coming.