by Ethan Swan
With the release of his 7th original album – his first in nearly 4 years – Mac DeMarco gives many longtime fans disappointingly little to be excited for. The prospect of a purely instrumental album with an unserious name like Five Easy Hot Dogs was not met with eager anticipation from hungry listeners, especially ones who found Here Comes the Cowboy lackluster. “Whatever happened to Mac taking his music seriously, or even trying to make it good?” concerned listeners might be asking. Those who crave the jangly pop sensibility and sleek production of 2017’s This Old Dog may find hints of comfort in Mac’s songwriting personality that still shines through in the stripped-back, wordless vistas on Five Easy Hot Dogs – but will of course be categorically dissatisfied if those are the expectations set towards a project that aims in a different direction entirely.
Five Easy Hot Dogs is far from the sound of the summer. Recorded in motel rooms and other (often sketchy) temporary housing arrangements over the course of a three-month solo trip around North America, this album follows Mac coping with the idea of finding purpose completely alone, and making something for himself while taking his own time to revisit his favorite places and people around North America. While most people I’ve spoken to about Hot Dogs view it at least somewhat positively, there’s still mention of something left to be desired. Despite the great execution on the concept of the instrumental album, people still long for a serious, well-produced album that harkens back to the good old days.
Is Mac DeMarco’s new stuff worse than his old stuff? Here Comes The Cowboy was… less than favorably received by fans, critics, and even KURE. The differences in tone and style between This Old Dog and Cowboy were quite jarring; the title track of the latter sounding like low-effort filler, putting many in the headspace that the rest of the album would be filler as well. But you don’t have to like the album to recognize that that’s not how it actually plays out – Mac follows up this irreverent “joke” track immediately with the heartfelt, refrained “Nobody,” which sets the true tone of the album. The direction of Mac’s songwriting and production turns to a different version of the introspective, DIY sound that fans were accustomed to, but the content and intentions behind each track remain the same. As with any piece of music, the first steps to enjoying Cowboy or Hot Dogs include dropping all preconceived notions about the substance or quality behind it, and to keep an open mind to new ideas and sounds. If you enter Cowboy already defeated by the title track, you may not notice how Mac makes use of the most creative freedom he’d had in years to bare his soul and experiment across such landmark tracks as the infectious Preoccupied, the tender K, and the recently appropriated TikTok hit, Heart to Heart (a tribute to Mac Miller). Obviously none of these sound much like the Mac DeMarco we all came up loving, but there is an undeniable amount of effort, intention, and consistency behind every single track on Here Comes the Cowboy.
As for Mac not taking his music seriously, I’d like to point out that his public persona hasn’t really ever been someone who takes his projects and performances tremendously seriously. As a little thought exercise, I’d suggest that Cowboy listeners try envisioning what an experimental indie rock album would sound like if it were made by someone who once doxxed himself on his own album by inviting listeners to his house for coffee (“My House By The Water”), or by someone who perpetrated the scene that “Freaking Out The Neighborhood” apologizes for (I’ll let you Google that one if you don’t know).
This new album was never meant to compete or compare with Salad Days or This Old Dog, and neither was Here Comes The Cowboy. On these newer records, Mac gracefully achieves what he set out to do: to make exactly the type of music he felt like. Nobody’s arguing that “Here Comes The Cowboy” or “Choo Choo” or any of Five Easy Hot Dogs should be on eternal repeat in your go-to summertime playlists, and definitely not that you actually have to enjoy either of these newer albums. However, fans of any artist must accept the fact that the artist has ultimate creative control over their output, and should understand it’s pretty unlikely they’d intentionally release a whole project with no confidence in its quality and authenticity. Even if Five Easy Hot Dogs gets played while you’re walking between classes, in the background while cooking or cleaning, or only once ever, it is a well-made project that shows Mac hasn’t given up on releasing music that is true to himself.