Nine years and five studio albums in, Mac DeMarco has staked out his territory, and the only reason it’s bigger than his couch is he needs room for a TV. The gap-toothed soft-rock prince finds himself looking for peace and quiet amidst the noise of modern times on Here Comes the Cowboy, wrestling with his what-me-worry? persona, wondering if life is better spent drifting or settling down, and scaling back his sound to a gentle pulse that’s louder than the gurgle of bong water, but not by much. These stark songs are meditative, lonely, and stubbornly isolated, like spending 45 minutes petting a cat. A static search for comfort.
Two years ago, on This Old Dog, DeMarco upped his game, taking his time to expand a set of songs he’d written quickly with home-studio polish. Cowboy is closer to the four albums of demos he’s released: dead-simple expressions of mellow-gold melancholy suspended over plaintive guitar plucking or bossa nova smoothness. Songs like “Nobody” and “Skyless Moon” crawl along like someone’s slowed down Neil Young’s After the Goldrush to learn the chords. Things perk up with the funk goof of “Choo Choo,” but the bass and drums on “Preoccupied” and “Heart to Heart” are there just to turn down the bed linens.
Range riders turn up throughout: “Little Dogs March” ponders the end of days spent roaming, a cowboy dreams of city lights in “Finally Alone,” and DeMarco wonders if a lady buckaroo might give up her open skies to spend some time in front of the TV in “Hey Cowgirl.” Domesticity isn’t exactly an unquestioned lure: “Sure as hell ain’t no stars down the dairy aisle” he admits. DeMarco has long recorded entirely on his own, but he’s rarely sounded as cut off as he does here. There’s precious little of the weightless electric guitar embellishments that added a sense of exploration in the past, and when a keyboard countermelody wanders into “On the Square” it’s like a doorbell ringing on a desert island.
There’s a privileged hermeticism to Here Comes the Cowboy, suggesting that DeMarco wasn’t kidding when he explained that he’d jacked the title of Mitski’s recent album by accident because he doesn’t get out much. This music isn’t just unwilling to engage the world outside, it’s unwilling to put on its shoes for a beer and chips run, because there’s an app for that. A hidden track at the end — another funk strut, full of “hee haws” — suggests that sometimes the feeling passes and the garage door opens. There’s a party out there somewhere, for those willing to saddle up.