“Five Easy Hot Dogs” is the latest album by indie singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco and continues, what appears to be, a new era in his music that started with his 2019 album, “Here Comes The Cowboy.”
Unfortunately for the music, this is an album that lives within the context of DeMarco’s journey as an artist, rather than a musical project that solely stands on its own. Devoid of the context, “Five Easy Hot Dogs” is a serene, instrumental, atmospheric and technically proficient album that leans into DeMarco’s garage band-jazz style, but overall it sounds directionless and lacking in character. If it had been made by anyone else I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much, yet it is a very competent and pleasing listen.
DeMarco’s early albums, “2,” “Salad Days” and “Another One” established a new sound in itself, spawning legions of imitators who in their derivativeness attempted to turn one artist’s sound into a genre. His albums improved upon each other, growing in maturity, experimentation and sound palettes, and his growth eventually culminated in his 2017 opus, “This Old Dog.” Universally acclaimed, this album represented the peak of DeMarco’s lethargic song-structure, blazé vocals and nicotine-stained lyricism.
Immediately following “This Old Dog,” the album, “Here Comes The Cowboy” was a confusing mess; the songs were short and under-developed, the bare lyricism lacked character and all-in-all it felt like a compilation of bits that DeMarco had been experimenting with rather than a cohesive project.
Many of the wavy tones and reverb-soaked guitars of his earlier albums were replaced with intricate percussion melodies and jazz-inspired guitar rhythms, performed with minimal instrumentation. It contained a lot of basic melodies and experimental variations with chord composition and harmonies, and it seems that’s the direction DeMarco wants to go, and chose to pursue, on “Five Easy Hot Dogs.”
According to a press release for the album announcement, and flushed out in an interview with Variety Magazine, this album was composed and recorded by DeMarco as he undertook a road trip from San Francisco to New York. After living in New York for three months, DeMarco wanted to hit the road, take a vacation, quit nicotine and record whatever he felt like doing.
Recorded in hotel rooms, friends’ houses and rented cabins, De Marco created his own soundtrack to his road trip. In his interview with Variety, De Marco said, “I also would listen to the recordings I was making along the way. I’d record something in one city so it feels like that city, but listening to it on the road, the highway also kind of bleeds into the memory of that song.”
As a result, this album feels like a soundtrack. The instrumental palette is consistent throughout the project and the focus on atmosphere is executed perfectly. If DeMarco has been celebrated for creating “a vibe,” this is him excelling at it. For a 30-minute drive down the beach or lounging in the sun, this is perfect. It’s never attention stealing, it has an even sound and the songs never overstay their welcome.
Recording is not a job for DeMarco, it’s a passion and it shows. In the same interview with Variety, he states, “I was always of the ilk of make what you want to make, and if money comes afterward, it’s a bonus….That’s why making this record felt quite natural for me. It has its own weird little musical identity, and it doesn’t ‘slap,’ it doesn’t have ‘bangers.’ It just is what it is. I love music. I love recording music. I love listening to music. And I don’t need extra baggage to come with it.”
While it might not win any awards and it has strong potential to alienate the rabid fanbase of cuffed-jeans, Vans-wearing, tote-bag-carrying, wearing-a-beanie-on-a-warm-day kind of folks, this album is an honest expression of what music’s all about. DeMarco is kind enough to take us on his journey with him; let’s see where it goes.