It’s been four years since Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco released his last studio album, “Here Comes the Cowboy.” The indie icon has now returned with his long-awaited fifth studio album, “Five Easy Hot Dogs,” that is completely just instrumental. DeMarco had the ambitious goal to record the album across several cities in the US and Canada, determined not to go home unless he finished the album entirely. With 14 brand new tracks completely made solo, the album was an attempt for the artist to take a liberating step back from his normal music. Though it is mentioned in the album’s title, this album is practically as easy as easy goes, with a seemingly heavy resemblance to elevator music.
All the track’s titles are named after the place in which they were recorded with some songs having more than one recorded in a particular city. From Portland, Oregon to Rockaway, New York, he traveled far and wide for his spontaneous musical adventure. DeMarco recorded songs in places like a shoddy hotel in Crescent City and his own childhood bedroom in Edmonton, Canada.
It’s odd to listen to the artist’s new album without hearing his signature voice blending well with his psychedelic and soothing instrumentals. The only time you hear DeMarco is at the start of the album, when he counts off the first track, “Gualala.” Fans are distraught that his voice is nowhere to be heard, especially since that is what he is most known for, thus a disliking erupts amongst longtime, dedicated listeners.
DeMarco’s signature style is still there, even without his vocals. The tight acoustic guitar accompanies a low bass beat while the occasional synth makes its appearance known. Along with some woodwind instruments on the way and tons of overlayed reverb, this formula is consistent throughout the whole album.
The percussion is simple enough, oftentimes resembling woodsy outdoor aspects like a woodpecker pecking away at a tree on tempo or like a frog chirping repeatedly in the background. Those essences of nature, which can resemble his scenic road trip, are easily detectable. But once you notice them, they can quite honestly get annoying when listening to the song more than once.
Apart from the annoyances, there really isn’t one song that sticks out more than the rest. Each one sounds particularly familiar to the one before it, making it even harder to distinguish the title of any song. You could listen to the whole album on repeat and not know when you got back to the beginning. But what DeMarco is mostly striving for is a chilled out record that creates a certain ambience and vibe rather than a sense of complexity and uniqueness, which is often sought after.
The album is meant to be kept on a loop, as his songs usually consist of this certain level of comfort and warmth. But other than its warmth, there is hardly a difference between songs despite the factors of where they were recorded. Its warmth is consistent, but has very little progressions, only the tedious lows repeated throughout the whole song. Oftentimes the repetitiveness of these melodies starts to make the listener feel stuck, like being trapped in an elevator while the music plays on and on. The tempo, on the other hand, almost always remains below the normal heart rate, which contributes back to its somewhat calming nature.
It’s noticeable that DeMarco is looking for some growth as he becomes older and more skilled, not to mention the fact that he gave up his famed nicotine during this changing period. But this album seems like a cautious step back, even after four long years of not releasing any music. Despite the music, it’s understandable that this album in particular meant a lot to DeMarco as he even recorded a song or two in his childhood bedroom.
The songs might have been recorded in several places around North America, but there is no exploration in the music itself, as the songs severely lack individuality. This dreary attempt to keep traveling until his album is finished allows for this strong sense of weariness to be presented throughout the tracks. That strong sense doesn’t let the listener feel as entirely comfortable as the music wants them to. Different from the amazing, outstanding predecessors that came before “Five Easy Hot Dogs,” fans ought to roast Mac DeMarco, rather than hot dogs, for such an easy sounding album.