The realization that an artist you enjoy has become completely creatively stagnant is a huge slap in the face, especially when that artist gained recognition for doing something at least slightly creative in the world of music. The artist in question here is Mac DeMarco, who started as an indie slacker poster boy but now fancies himself a little more introspective and sophisticated. What DeMarco doesn’t realize, however, is that underdeveloped, uninspired music doesn’t equate to minimalism.
Around 2018, when I decided it was time I start listening to “real music”, I latched onto Mac DeMarco’s early albums; the hazy, lackadaisical sheen of 2 and Salad Days resonated with my worldview at the time. I’m no longer the Mac DeMarco superfan I was as a junior in high school, but I can still admire the strengths of his early work and his exploration of the hypnagogic pop template as an outlet for rumination on adolescence coupled with a generally aimless approach to life. The more introspective themes of This Old Dog showed listeners that even the biggest indie goofballs can grow up on their records without coming across as trite or contrived, but Here Comes the Cowboy proved to be a step in the wrong direction. On that polarizing record, DeMarco continued in a more contemplative vein while stripping back the instrumentation to a sparse blend of anemic guitars, drum machines, and moody synthesizers. Despite the strengths of tracks such as “Preoccupied” and “Heart to Heart,” the whole album came across as feeling very drab and lifeless, with the dry instrumentation only drawing more attention to the absence of the same youthfulness that made the previous albums work so well.
Here Comes the Cowboy came out four years ago, so one would hope that by the time a new Mac DeMarco album finally materialized that it would show signs of artistic progression. Five Easy Hot Dogs showed not even a hint of any attempt at creating something fresh or creative, with the entirely instrumental album sounding like a collection of outtakes from the previous record rather than a new body of work exploring a previously established approach with greater depth. It really shows that this album was recorded on a road trip, with most of the songs simply wandering about for two or three minutes and then abruptly ending. The atmospheric peacefulness of album highlights “Gualala 2”, “Crescent City”, and “Vancouver” is pleasant on the ear, but these are really the only examples of anything even slightly interesting happening. Drums and guitars conjure up images of a band of gnomes in a forest while synthesizers mimic animals, taking the listener on a journey that just doesn’t go anywhere despite the clear effort and thoughtfulness put into the composition of each track. Therein lies the frustration this album presents; none of the songs are bad per se, but none of them are great either. The arrangement of the album shows that Mac DeMarco took his time in crafting a pleasant listening experience, but just didn’t bother to do anything interesting with it.
Five Easy Hot Dogs is sure to please the most devoted Mac DeMarco fans, but it does little to convince his detractors that there’s anything worthwhile in his back catalog. The album feels less like a road trip than a tedious stroll through a park. It clocks in at just a little over half an hour, but still feels like a tedious slog that leaves the listener feeling unfulfilled by the end of it. If DeMarco can do no wrong in your eyes, by all means you’ll love this record, but for everyone else it’s the definition of inessential.
- Rating: 5.6/10
- Favorite Track(s): “Gualala 2”, “Crescent City”, “Vancouver”
- Least Favorite Track: “Portland”