Arts, Music

‘Five Easy Hot Dogs’ Strays from Demarco’s Usual Indie Pop In Favor of Instrumentals


Even before he announced his newest album, Five Easy Hot Dogs, Mac DeMarco had stripped his caricatural personality of everything that made it larger than life. The always-intoxicated chain-smoking king of the indie-pop hot-100 abandoned the upbeat, light sound that propelled him to the top of the bedroom-pop scene albums ago. He gave up drinking in 2020, and symbolically killed his former persona by giving up cigarettes last year. Now, DeMarco has completed his transformation: he has given up lyrics. 

DeMarco released Five Easy Hot Dogs through his own label on Jan. 20, marking the end of the 7,000-plus mile road trip during which it was recorded. The 32-year-old circled the country—and occasionally Canada—twice, dropping in on thrift stores, coffee shops, and friends along the way. 

He found time and the road to record his first instrumental album, drawing inspiration from his favorite cities he visited. DeMarco recorded the entire album on the road, naming each song after the city where it was recorded. 

Five Easy Hot Dogs isn’t an experimental album. Instead, the album is a stop on DeMarco’s evolution away from the indie rock scene and toward his stripped-down niche. DeMarco pushes his minimalist sound further on each album, but this time he went too far. Five Easy Hot Dogs falls flat in many places, coming up short of the standard set by DeMarco’s other projects. 

Five Easy Hot Dogs’ lack of lyrics situates it independent of DeMarco’s discography. The sound itself, however, is similar to what DeMarco established on Here Comes the Cowboy on May 10, 2019. The latter album features DeMarco’s signature simple melodies and often melancholy vocals with an added layer of sonic and lyrical depth. The guitar is more filtered, the keyboard shines through, and there is a bit of whatever this is. Five Easy Hot Dogs follows the musical trend set by Here Comes the Cowboy, holding on to DeMarco’s minimalist style with added instrumental complexity. 

Most indie-pop-rock artists don’t ditch their successful sound and style for an instrumental album better suited for a Spotify rainy day study playlist than the charts, but again, DeMarco has never tried to be like other artists. His persona is founded on his easygoing style of doing what he wants when he wants, and this album is its most recent development. 

On Five Easy Hot Dogs, horns blend with guitar melodies and basic drum beats to create short, simple songs. A sense of stripped-down aimlessness has always been part of DeMarco’s onstage and offstage personalities, but this is heightened on Five Easy Hot Dogs, as there are no lyrics to give the songs direction. 

Quirky flute and horn patterns like the ones on “Crescent City” and “Portland 2” give the album texture, but they rarely develop beyond fun riffs. The songs are too short to feel complete, with the average track length just below two and a half minutes. They start and end without establishing middles, resulting in a meandering collection of pleasant tracks tailor-made for the indie coffee shop downtown with $6 cappuccinos.

The songs lack punch, but not always in a bad way. They aren’t quite muzak, but they aren’t going to provide a transcendent listening experience, either. The bassline on “Edmonton” paired with a bouncy horn melody makes for a groovy foot-tapping experience. It is one of the album’s few upbeat songs and also one of the only moments where the guitar is pushed into the background, providing a nice break toward the end of the album. 

The two guitars on “Vancouver” pair nicely, providing one of the album’s more interesting melodies. The choice of shakers—instead of a generic drum kit—adds to the track’s complexity, but it ends abruptly as soon as the listener can process the uniqueness of the song. 

Perhaps the most compelling track on the album is “Portland 2.” It opens with a simple two-note flute pattern that repeats through most of the song with changing pitches. A repeating, fingerstyle guitar pattern accompanies the flute and also changes pitches as the track progresses. Around the middle, the flute guitar cut out momentarily and begin trading phrases with a different guitar melody and another three-note pattern played on an unidentifiable instrument—keyboard, perhaps. Again, just as it gets interesting, the song cuts off suddenly and the mystical organ sounds of “Victoria” take over. 

The album isn’t dull because it is instrumental. There are plenty of exciting instrumental works. Instead, it is sometimes boring because DeMarco took a sound that worked and stripped it of a key ingredient without adding anything new to supplement. Five Easy Hot Dogs has its moments, but fans of DeMarco’s past projects—especially 2 and Salad Days—might be disappointed. 

January 22, 2023

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