‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ crosses the fine line between minimalism and monotony
‘I’m a fixture / A split decision / A pretty picture / A superstition’ sings Mac DeMarco in the ‘Nobody’, the first single out of his latest effort. It is a lovely song, the aesthetic he had established over the previous years stripped down to its bare minimum. Where there used to be psychedelic influences and subtly edited voices is now just a man and his guitar. In ‘Nobody’, it works — and it keeps working in the following single ‘All of our yesterdays’, although the similarity between the two tracks could start to worry some.
These doubts are quickly confirmed upon listening to Here Comes The Cowboy in its entirety. The first track, which gives its title to the album, sets the tone for what will follow: alternating between two chords, DeMarco repeats the title endlessly in a lifeless voice. The song is only 3 minutes long but feels at least five times longer. This is unfortunately far from the only song on the album that uses this technique: a disembodied voice, a lyric or two, two chords or three, and a whole lot of boredom. ‘Choo Choo’ is an obnoxious track that is probably supposed to be funnier than it actually is; ‘Hey Cowgirl’ is the response to the first track that no one asked for and ‘Baby Bye Bye’ shows that no amount of ‘yeehaws’ can overturn lazy composition.
Even when DeMarco pushes his songwriting slightly further, most of the tracks remain indistinguishable from one another, leaving us with the painful sensation of having been listening to the exact same thing for 42 minutes. It’s sometimes hard to tell if this is conscious minimalism or if there’s truly nothing there at all. DeMarco has previously released some solid records, even establishing himself as a bit of an indie darling with songs such as ‘My Kind of Woman’ or ‘Salad Days’. Even when they started to become criminally overplayed, the songs retained some level of charm because they had something that is criminally lacking in this release: life.
This is lethargic music-making through and through. Not once does DeMarco’s voice express something that isn’t resigned passivity, nor does his guitar ever do more than solely accompany his (very few) words. Here Comes The Cowboy is thoroughly depressing — but not the kind of depressing that brings catharsis or understanding to the viewer. It is the voice inside your head that tells you to stay in bed after already having layed there for two days, the instinct that tells you that maybe you don’t really need to take a shower even though you can’t remember the last time you changed your clothes. It feels sick in the most pervasive way, and makes for a very unpleasant experience that one will not want to repeat any time soon.
This is DeMarco’s first release without the constraints of a label, his first occasion to truly show who he is an artist without any outside restrictions. That this is what he decides to present is at the very least disconcerting. Were the spirited lo-fi hits he had been known for always hiding this much apathy underneath it ? When exactly was the line between simple calm (as shown in This Old Dog, DeMarco’s previous LP) and complete sluggishness crossed ? The themes that can be made out once the Canadian singer does choose to put some words to his songs are consistently negative, exploring his poor relationship to success and celebrity. Hopefully he will be able to find better ways to navigate these complex issues in the future, but his musical efforts to express his current state of mind remain less than convincing.