Hot Dogs are insatiably American. They are plasticly processed and artificially curated monstrosities – a consumerist staple, served with Simpson yellow mustard. They are guilt infested, of questionable origin and have a red soled, veracious bite. They are so very, very American. But Mac DeMarco is Canadian, and an archetypal stoner with a knack for soothing arrangements. He is no consumerist, and so very different from the delectable hot dog he has named his latest album after. In short, there is nothing processed or artificial about his most recent work.
An important, perhaps unexpected point, is that he has produced an instrumental. DeMarco has a good voice, and I’d like to think he knows this. In fact, I think knows it so well that he decided to remove it completely, and work on everything else. I was surprised; his previous albums were lounging lectures on stonerism, post-adult adolescence and hippy virtues. But no talking here. I mean, it’s not like we needed to vocally castrate him. In fact, quite the opposite – I was hoping for a lyrical enlargement. Although as DeMarco reminds us, size doesn’t matter, and in the big dick swinging world of stoner rock, a little bit of linguistic abstinence goes a long way.
As the preamble informs me, the album was a moment of madness. After finishing a concert, DeMarco simply “jumped into his 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser” set off across the western seaboard, recorded as he went, and tried to find himself, or some gappie rubbish like that. There is a lot to unpack here. For one, his vehicle is a terrorist taxi (so much so they named a war after it in Chad) – think JihadiJohnas the star and the Toyota as the reasonably priced car. But, how is venturing the western seaboard going out into the real world? It’s about as out of touch as an Ortolan Bunting with Foie gras, or in Californian terms, avocado on toast. And so what we get is a roadside travelogue of pipes and plucks – an ode to hipster serenity. Rather helpfully, especially for the easily confused drugged up listener, the names act as our map. Well, either that, or “Chicago” is a catatonically stoned reaction to the West End musical.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case. DeMarco is respectfully relaxed, as if his tooth gap widens every time he says fuck it and smokes another joint. And I’m dutifully jealous – it makes for great music. He first whispers into our ear with Gualala. I’m waiting for him to start speaking. He so could. But instead, the Iberian simmer of his guitar lingers out, and we get a synthesised prod in the back.
Portland is the next real highlight. It’s a glide through something serene. You can feel his cold glance looking up, and breathing in that sharp, Northwestern air. It goes a bit awry towards the end – something isn’t quite right, as your head curls about like a marble in a wine glass. Portland 2 then brings us back, with the toothless toot of a pipe bringing a nativist trance. It’s got a delightful fingerstyle guitar to it, sure, but that sprinkle of something, and I really don’t know what, leaves you shimmering.
But Victoria starts to feel just right. It’s DeMarco inspace-age, stoner serenity. And then he spoils it; an awkward anxiety begins, and it’s clear this high has clearly not been going well. Perhaps DeMarco is paranoid, or getting the munchies, but I’m not keen. Time to eat that hot dog.
And Vancouver is a friend with too much time on their hands, bugging you to come out. It’s like a two foot Danny DeVitokicking your shin until you budge. You question whether DeMarco is describing the Mario Kartloading screen, or the city of eco friendly urban planning. Perhaps both are the same. Vancouver 2 is better, like a tangy salsa on something fried. It sounds warm and curated, Spanish even. Vancouver 3 is our culinary climax. It’s a hot bite into DeMarco’s mind, with a buttered glaze of strings. It’s certainly easier to swallow than a frankfurter, and much, much tastier.
Edmonton makes us friendly again. I’m acquainted with the DeMarco I knew, and even miss. He could sing, even I could sing, over this. Something synthesised reintroduces themselves to me. I apologise for all the previous dislike, and tell them I’ve got to write an honest article. The song doesn’t seem to care, and all I can imagine Is talking to a plasticine cat. Am I dreaming or going mad? This could just be what half an hour of Mac does to you. But the album and I are back on good terms. The rest goes to plan – Chicago is a playful dance, and one I’m keen to swing along to. We finish with Rockaway, a light breeze into the summer heat. It is a cathartic flutter to end.
The album feels quasi-genuine, and It’s certainly more real than anything else released this month. It may be pretentiously hipster, but manages to be effortlessly cool. DeMarco is a clearly talented musician, and has one of the most relaxing musical souls around.
Would I listen to this album in my day to day life? Probably not. But would it make excellent background music to a politefully painful middle class dinner party? Most definitely. Perhaps DeMarco has done something genius; he’s already conquered the miserably stoned teenager, so why not make something for their parents to consume alongside their organic beetroot and bamboo yoga mats. I can gawpishly accept what DeMarco is trying to do, and to be fair to him, he does it decently well. It certainly feels like unfiltered, hazy stuff. But, as with most instrumentals, he makes background music for a pretentious eatery, rather than anything you can really focus on. So much for that bite of a hot dog, looks like it’s going to be quinoa instead.