The Evolution of Mac DeMarco – from Wild Indie Rock Prince to Genuine Indie Uncle

If I told most people to think of one indie rock artist that rose to fame in this past decade, the artist that would most likely come to mind is Canadian singer and songwriter Mac DeMarco. With hits like “Chamber of Reflection” and “Heart to Heart” continuing to find new audiences across the internet and social media platforms years after release, it’d be hard to deny Mac’s rise to fame since starting his solo career back in 2012 after leaving his band Makeout Videotape. He’s been an indie staple for years now and continues to be many younger generations entry into the genre itself. One thing that hardcore listeners and even casual ones know is how often he likes to change his sound. Even if it doesn’t earn him widespread success and is criticized by some of his own fans, he doesn’t like playing it safe with what worked years ago. Mac continues to creatively challenge himself with each new album release and doesn’t fall into the trappings of many other famous artists, playing it safe with a sound that pleases a greater audience for earnings.  Looking at Mac’s career so far though, was there a “definitive” era of his sound, and where is his ever changing sound heading to next? I’ll be taking a look at all of his album releases since he started his solo career to answer these questions. 

Rock and Roll Night Club, released in 2012, was Mac DeMarco’s first album, released in a mini-LP format. Continuing his heavy chorus effect guitar playing from Makeout Videotape, this album is the roots of the sound that would later be refined in 2 and Salad Days. While making the album, 21 year old Mac was still working at a grocery store as stated on the 10th anniversary vinyl release. Mac opted to distort his voice to a deeper tone for around half of the songs on this album, creating almost Elvis-like vocals. There are also radio DJ-like intermissions spread throughout the album, a first glimpse into his sillier nature. The titular song of the album is easily the album’s standout, combining dreamy chorus effect guitar chords with distorted vocals in an upbeat song about a night on the town. A similar sounding song on the album that stands out on its own is “European Vegas”. A slower paced song, it almost feels like the tired ride home from a night out. Another standout track is “Only You”, which is the true origins of Mac’s somber love songs that would later catapult him to fame in coming years. The pained vocals Mac bellows combined with the heavy reverb on the guitar hits you hard, especially in his live cover version. Critics found the album somewhat strange at the time of release but reviews were generally positive with a Metacritic score of 79. In the following year, as Mac gained more attention, he would release another song titled“Young Blood” through Adult Swim that sounds like it could easily fit into the album. It’s about a benched hockey player desperately wanting to be put back in the game after getting with the coach’s daughter, and it feels like the origins to Mac’s sillier songs which is a big part of his identity. Overall, Rock and Roll Night Club’s sound is still unique compared to Mac’s other albums to this day and is an excellent start to a solo career. The album is a great dichotomy for Mac’s persona that would be developed in following years, the goofy rockstar mixed with the emotional crooner. 

Mac’s second album, simply titled 2, was released later on in 2012. It was his first full length studio album and already he changes his sound from Rock and Roll Nightclub. The slowed down soft glam rock sound was replaced with a more classic guitar rock inspired album. This album marked the beginning of Mac’s true indie rock phase that would later be refined in Salad Days. “Ode to Viceroy” is the biggest stand out track in the album, dedicated to his favorite brand of cigarettes. Mac’s love of cigarettes would become a big part of his persona starting with this song. The lyrics describe the struggles related to cigarette addiction and the allure of self destruction, acknowledging the fatal vice and being aware of judgment from others. This is evident when Mac addresses this directly in the track, stating “Don’t take me for a fool now. I’m only trying to calm down. Just tryna keep it cool”. The chorus effects on the guitar are very strong on this track, giving almost a head-high-like sensation while listening that completes the cigarette induced, dream-like trance this track provides. “Freaking Out the Neighborhood” is another standout track, using almost surf rock like elements. It’s a song about Mac apologizing to his mother for the wild things he did while performing that some of his family members found out about. It’s a perfect mix of Mac’s goofy nature with his budding indie guitar rock sound. The standout romance track in the album, and maybe the best love song Mac has ever written, is titled “My Kind of Woman”. The song is about Mac’s longtime girlfriend Kiera McNally, and it’s about as heartfelt as a song can get. It’s simply about a boy in love with a girl who loves her with everything he has, making her his “kind of woman”. The album was received very well by critics compared to his previous one. Pitchfork designated it with its “Best New Music” title in their review and would later rank the album at 149 of the 200 best albums of the 2010’s. Overall, 2 is a fantastic beginning half of Mac’s indie rock sound that would boost him to fame, and for good reason. It still stands as one of Mac’s best albums over 10 years later. 

In 2014 Mac would release his most popular album overtime titled Salad Days. It was a natural evolution of his sound from 2. In regards to the sound some wish Mac would go back to in following years, Mac often cites that many people wish he would make another Salad Days. It’s easy to see why so many people love this album as it takes what worked with 2 and amplifies them. The title of the album is reference to one of Shakespere’s work, a phrase meaning one’s youthful and inexperienced days. “Passing Out Pieces” is a standout  in the album, and is maybe one of Mac’s best songs describing the dichotomy of his persona. It refers to Mac feeling like his persona is split between the goofy and crazy performer that fans think of him and the now more laid back and experienced man he is growing into, all the while putting himself and his experiences into his songs for the world to listen to. It’s a commentary on how we give different parts of ourselves to people in relationships and it sometimes comes at a cost. The heavy synth chords feel like they perfectly represent the emotionally drained yet carefree tone of this track. The biggest standout track in the album, and one of Mac’s most famous songs, is “Chamber Of Reflection”. This track has gained massive popularity on the internet over the years and was many’s first introduction to Mac’s music. The song itself is about the deep feeling of loneliness we all experience many times when we’re “alone again”. The heavy use of melancholy feeling synth chords add to that loneliness felt while listening. The album was met with critical acclaim, and its metacritic score of 82 made it earn the title of “universal acclaim” on the site. Salad Days is overall a fantastic refinement of the indie guitar rock sound from 2 while slowly dipping into the psychedelic rock and lofi sound that would soon come from Mac’s next album. It’s understandable why many fans would want more “Salad Days”, but it’s natural to move on to other things, especially after refining a sound to such a great degree.  

Mac’s next release would come as a mini-LP with 2015’s Another One. Mac ditched the sound that boosted him to fame starting with 2 for something much more softer yet fitting for his lyrics and the emotions he likes to convey. This mini-LP would mark the start of Mac’s indie-bedroom-pop-lo-fi-psychedelic rock era where some of his best work would come from. If that sounds like a lot for a genre description, it’s the best way to generally describe Mac’s unique sound in this era. The standout track of the LP is the titular song titled Another One. It’s one of Mac’s best songs dealing with the uncertainty of relationships, and the fear that someone else could always be “knocking at her door”. The track also describes the reassurance your loved one provides when “she still says she’s true” and the faith you have to have in them that keeps relationships together. It’s a fantastic song that anyone who has ever felt a bit insecure in a relationship can relate to. The beautiful Yamaha DX-7 synth chords played throughout the track really ties it all together as some of Mac’s best work. There’s still echoes of Salad Days in this LP but mixed with his budding new sound, as showcased with the track “Without Me”. The whole album seems to have a theme of heartbreak and trying to move on, and this track is no different with lyrics like “as long as I know she’s happy, happy.. without me”. The track “A Heart Like Hers” stands out as one of Mac’s most heartbreaking songs to date. Making use of those beautiful  DX-7 synth chords again, this is probably the pinnacle breakup song from the artist. It deals with the betrayal that comes with heartbreak and the scars left over. The fear of heartbreak happening again is emphasized in the song as well, with the lyrics stating to “never believe in a heart like hers again”. Another One received favorable reviews from critics but didn’t score as highly as Salad Days. It reached number 1 of Top Rock Albums and 25 overall of the Billboard Top 200 which made it the highest performing album from Mac at the time of release. Another One is a beautifully emotional album from Mac and one of his most emotionally vulnerable albums to date. It showed how emotionally resonant the often perceived goofy rockstar could be. The use of those beautiful synth tunes and heavily emotional themes would set the groundwork for his next album, which would be the pinnacle of this new sound. 

In 2017, Mac would release his next full length album titled This Old Dog. Thematically, most of the tracks of this album focuses on Mac’s strained relationship with his father. He would continue his new sound that started with Another One and would refine it greatly in this album, adding acoustic elements to some of the tracks as well. The standout track of the album, and personally what I believe to be one of Mac’s best recorded songs in his career, is titled “On the Level”. The song is about self reliance, putting the past behind you while being honest and believing in yourself no matter what hurdles you’ve been through or are thrown your way in life. It’s thematic to the album with the song referencing Mac’s relationship with his father many times, through putting the strained relationship in the past in order to move on and be a better man. The heavenly combo of both lead and rhythm synths in this track make you feel like you’re transported into another world. Mac’s mix of smooth bass behind those heavenly synth chords and soft vocals makes this track equivalent to audio drugs. If I were to choose one Mac DeMarco song to show to a new listener, this would be it. The album has its fair share of love songs, “For the First Time” and “One More Love Song” being great additions to Mac’s growing catalog of amazingly written romance songs. There are still echoes of 2 and Salad Days’ sound in tracks like “A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes”. “Moonlight on the River” is another one of the album’s best, and is one of Mac’s most eerie yet soothing songs to date. It’s a song about his uneasy feelings regarding his father’s eventual death. since his father abandoned him and has been absent for most of his life, but is still an important part of who he is. The chorus effects used on the soft guitar chords combined with a slowly built up distortion in a chaotic ending complete this transcendent and melancholic track. The album was received very well by critics and fans, reaching number 1 of Top Indie Albums and 29 overall of the Billboard Top 200 on release. It didn’t score as high with critics as his last full length album Salad Days, and his change in the sound that raised him to fame could be attributed to this. This Old Dog was Mac’s most accomplished album at release and maybe to this day, with amazing songwriting and nearly every track feeling like a standout. It improved upon and refined the sound from Another One while calling back on his sound from earlier albums. It seriously doesn’t get as good as this. 

2019’s Here Comes The Cowboy was Mac’s next album released and had big shoes to fill. It brought over some elements of This Old Dog’s sound, but once again Mac’s sound was changing, now towards a more indie folk inspired album. Relaxing vacation themed songs like “Finally Alone” and “Preoccupied” fully lean into Mac’s soft vocals and soothing guitar chords for some nicely laid back tracks. Folk and western themed tracks are spread throughout the album like the titular song of the album and “Hey Cowgirl”. “On The Square” stands out for being a very introspective track, with themes of being more honest with oneself and not to “live a life that isn’t there”. The repeating somber piano chords really gives a very pensive feeling to this track. The stand out track of the album, and arguably Mac’s most popular song nowadays, is titled “Heart to Heart”. This track was a tribute to the late Mac Miller, a fellow artist and friend of Mac’s. It’s a somber tribute that talks about themes of wishing you spent more time with those you care about before they’re gone, and the somber synth chords of the track make this theme hit hard.The reception from critics were generally positive, but not in the same way as most of his previous albums. Pitchfork gave it a 6.7, which was the lowest score they had given one of his albums at the time. Critically it performed very well, reaching number 10 of the Billboard Top 200. After the song “Heart to Heart” became massively popular on the social media platform TikTok in early 2023, it put the track at 83 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was the first time one of Mac’s songs made it to the Hot 100 chart. This album marked a now complete departure from the indie guitar rock sound of 2 and Salad Days, even ditching elements from This Old Dog, and already fans were missing his older tunes. Compared to This Old Dog, it’s less refined and lacks a lot of the emotional depth that made that album so special. It’s an interesting take on a folk rock themed album from Mac, and there’s still some great This Old Dog inspired tracks, but it leaves you wanting more. Listening through the album, it feels as though Mac is tired and feels confined with the sound he’s progressed to, and is ready to move on to something completely new (which, of course, he does). 

Mac’s next album wouldn’t come till 2023 with Five Easy Hot Dogs due to a hiatus from the pandemic. This would be his most experimental era yet, a full departure from any of his previous sounds with a new psychedelic folk, instrumental only album. He also recorded this album while traveling on a 7,000 mile road trip all across North America, hence the titles of the songs are named after cities he visited. During the roadtrip, he quit smoking for good which was a big part of his public persona. You can tell from how experimental yet creative, and from the story behind this album, that making it meant alot to Mac and proved to be cathartic enough to gain newfound sobriety. The first track, titled “Gualala”, is the most memorable as it captures the feeling of a peaceful sunset drive. Most of the tracks have a tired, long night drive feel to them which does a good job conveying Mac’s journey while making the album. “Chicago” is another memorable one, a more upbeat track capturing the feeling of taking in a large city’s wonders. The final track, titled “Rockaway”, really captures that last leg, late night drive of a road trip feeling when you’re just ready to go home. The reception to the album was very mixed. Fans were disappointed that after an almost 4 year hiatus, Mac released an instrumental only album. Critically, it got somewhat favorable reviews but nothing like his previous albums. Pitchfork gave it a 6, making it their lowest reviewed Mac album to this day. It’s hard to analyze and compare this album to his other works because they don’t feel similar at all. Most of the songs feel somewhat forgettable but that comes with the nature of instrumental only and similarly titled tracks. It’s hard not to view Five Easy Hot Dogs as Mac’s weakest album, but then again, it wasn’t trying to be another This Old Dog or Salad Days. Itt set out to be something completely new and different and it accomplished that. It was hard for fans of any of his previous sounds to not feel at least a little worried about what direction Mac would go in next, especially after rumors of retirement. 

On April 21, 2023, Mac surprised dropped a 199 song album containing song demos from 2018-2023 titled One Wayne G. For any Mac DeMarco fans, getting nearly nine hours of unreleased demos was a dream come true. Mac is known to release demo versions of his albums usually around a year after an album release, but nothing like this before. It contained all of his demos starting before Here Comes the Cowboy, through the pandemic, and up to shortly before the release of Five Easy Hot Dogs. The songs were titled numerically by date recorded with some having additional titles, usually the tracks with vocals. Some of these demos had been miscellaneously released before by Mac on YouTube, but most of them had been unreleased. When it comes to sound, this album is really a mix of his sounds from his past three albums, mostly Here Comes the Cowboy and Five Easy Hotdogs. There are many new sounds in this album too, with some being full on ambient tracks. The majority of the standout tracks are the ones with lyrics, with some so finished that they feel like they could’ve easily appeared on a regular album. “20200817 Proud True Toyota” is a silly song that could easily be a Toyota commercial. It’s simply a chorus effect guitar filled laid back song about a Toyota. “20190724”, or as fans call it “Garbage Funk”, is probably the grooviest song Mac has ever recorded. This demo song has been a favorite among fans and many would like to see Mac record more songs in this style. The standout track from this album is titled “20210220 Stratocaster”, an absolutely beautiful and tear jerking love song about a guitar. It just consists of Mac playing the guitar and his vocals with no other instruments, and it’s one of his most emotional songs which really speaks to how incredible his songwriting is. Reception for the album was great from fans, as it really gave a peak into Mac’s songwriting process but also a personal look into his headspace over the past few years. It made it to 56 of the Billboard Top 200 at the time of release. Critically, it received mixed reviews due to the format of the album, with Pitchfork giving it a 6.1. One Wayne G, although listed as his newest album, really feels like a huge expansion on Mac’s earlier demo albums. It’s not an easy album for casual listeners, but for fans it was an absolute treat. 

After taking a look at all of Mac DeMarco’s albums released since his solo career started over 10 years ago, it’s easy to separate the eras of his music based on his sounds. When it comes to the “definitive” era of Mac DeMarco based on his albums, I think it really depends on what sound you enjoy best from him. If you enjoy his soft and glam rock sound from early on in his career, I’d say Rock and Roll Nightclub. If you prefer his indie guitar rock sound that boosted him to fame, then I’d say 2. If you love his indie-bedroom-pop-lo-fi-psychedelic rock era, then I’d say This Old Dog. If you’re fond of his indie folk era, then I’d say Here Comes the Cowboy. If it’s his newer instrumental psychedelic folk sound, then I’d go with One Wayne G. For my money, I’d say This Old Dog was Mac DeMarco’s definitive era. I’ll state for honesty’s sake that I’m a bit biased on this opinion. This Old Dog was my introduction to Mac DeMarco and is my personal favorite album of all time. Not only that, but “On the Level” is my favorite song of all time. Bias aside, it was truly the best era as we saw Mac fully embrace emotional depth while showcasing his songwriting skills to its finest degree, and it shows with every single track in the album. Despite how frequently his sound changes, one thing that hasn’t changed over time is how much of himself Mac puts into his music, which is why it feels so genuine. It’s hard to say where Mac’s sound is going next. In a recent interview with Mac, he confirmed he isn’t retiring from songwriting anytime soon, just “retiring from the way things used to be” in regards to touring. It seems from the wide variety of sounds from One Wayne G, and the concise nature of Five Easy Hot Dogs combined with his personal growth achieved while recording it, that Mac is once again heading into a new direction for his sound. Whatever his new sound ends up being, I know I’ll be there listening on day one.


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Spotify on Tiktok. “Mac DeMarco debunks the retirement rumors. Turns out he’s just retiring from the old ways… perhaps.” TikTok, Web. Accessed 30 June 2023.

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