There’s a Tender Album Hidden Inside Mac DeMarco’s One Wayne G, But It’ll Take You Nine Hours to Find It
DeMarco’s 199-song hard-drive dump is unnecessary and too long, but enjoyable in small doses. Some of the prolific indie rocker’s most-empathetic gems exist within, if you have the patience to look for themPhoto by Kiera McNally Music Reviews Mac DeMarco
If you were also a teenager in the years between 2011 and 2015, you probably found yourself engrossed in the jangly oasis of Mac DeMarco’s indie pop catalog. I would be a liar if I said Salad Days was not my most-listened to album in 2015, 2016 and 2017. But, then again, I’ve never shied away from admitting that. No matter how loathed DeMarco’s music and persona have become in online music criticism circles in 2023, his run from 2 to This Old Dog is still mostly unparalleled in his genre. He was a pioneer of contemporary slacker rock for good reason, as so many DIY bedroom acts looked to his blueprint while architecting their own.
So, if you’re like me and consider yourself to be an ex-Salad Days evangelist, I’m sure you were also bummed out when DeMarco’s 2019 LP Here Comes the Cowboy flopped. Some of the songs—like “Nobody” and “All of Our Yesterdays” and the Mac Miller-honoring “Heart to Heart”—were very good and remain highlights in DeMarco’s discography. Other—like the title track and “Little Dogs March” and “Choo Choo”—were abysmal offerings from a once-revered songwriter who seemed to have arrived at a place where he could start phoning it in. As a follow-up to This Old Dog—one of the most-empathetic and thoughtful indie records of 2017—Here Comes the Cowboy squandered the momentum of deep-rooted, intimate self-reflections that made its predecessor so widely accessible and beloved.
But, perhaps, that was DeMarco’s intention all along. After writing his most-personal songs ever, maybe he found himself without much to say. He is a creator, though, and his new offering—One Wayne G—proves that, since as early as 2018, he’s been collecting ditties and scraps of melodies for some reason or another. At the beginning of 2023, he released Five Easy Hot Dogs, a collage of instrumental songs named after the cities they were recorded in. During the pandemic, DeMarco lost a part of himself—much like many of us also had—went on a road-trip from Los Angeles to Vancouver, singing songs in motels or living rooms just for the sake of making pure, unconstrained music again. No intentions or end goal was in his sights; it was an exercise in finding joy in the craft again. So, as mundane and underwhelming as Five Easy Hot Dogs is to the casual ear, the reasoning behind its existence is much more rewarding than the sonic it employs.
If you’ve been jonesing to hear snippets of DeMarco’s song-making process, then One Wayne G might be of interest to you, since it contains eight hours of him just fiddling with drum machines, synthesizers and guitar loops in his Los Angeles garage studio. Most of the tracks are titled with the dates on which they were made, ranging between “20180512” to “20230114.” They all harness the same energy as the legendary YouTube livestream “lo-fi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to,” opting to not be noticeable enough to make any lasting impressions and putter along in the background of any task.
A majority of One Wayne G is, at its core, uninteresting or impactful. But that is often the result of structured chord progressions with no mission statement. How else can you explain a track like the sparse industrial clangs on “20190205 2,” or the Paul Simon-conjuring “20210722,” where DeMarco mumbles “bee-bom-bom” and “la-la-la” in a dozen different ways without actually uttering a real word? This is why the phrase “the cutting-room floor” was invented.
Instrumental and ambient tracks, when done correctly, can harness emotions from all walks of the earth. There’s a reason why Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports—where the ex-Roxy Music genius plays only three piano notes for 50 minutes—is so revered and lauded: Even in its simplicity, it finds a way to pulse through the harpsicords of our hearts. On One Wayne G, DeMarco’s motions feel like a middle-of-the-night GarageBand tinkering session.
And, since DeMarco’s bread-and-butter has long been his ability to pair lush syntax with less-than-stellar instrumentals, it’s not surprising that the untitled songs on One Wayne G are missing the firepower that they could have with some semblance of vocals. To my dismay—and that of many others, I’m sure—the days of DeMarco’s contradicting sound—the gritty cosmos of songs like “Let Her Go” or “My Kind of Woman”—are gone. All we have left are arrangements without the “wow” factor. No one expects any artist to present their music in the same shape for their entire career, but the way the punches of Rock and Roll Night Club and 2 have left DeMarco’s orbit feels like a left-turn that could’ve used a second opinion.
There are highlights on One Wayne G, though, like the song DeMarco teased on PBS years ago, which is simply titled “20190724.” The video clip found a following on TikTok, due to DeMarco’s “it’s total garbage, but fun to make” joke. But, to look at One Wayne G from a critical position, you must first understand that you are, effectively, reviewing two albums. There are the instrumentals—181 of them—and then there’s everything else. Every song has a date in its title, but there are only 18 that have actual worded names and lyrical performances.
If you remove all of those songs from the tracklist, you’ll have a 45-minute album. It’s likely that what was supposed to be the successor to Here Comes the Cowboy is here, as cuts like “I Like Her” and “Fooled By Love” have been teased in live performances since 2020, perhaps earlier. DeMarco seems to be playing with stems from his decade-plus career: “Ball For The Coach” feels like an amalgamation of the Makeout Videotape and Another One eras; his vocals deepen on “Goodnight Baby” like they would on Rock and Roll Night Club, before careening into that distorted alto he made infamous on 2.
DeMarco is no stranger to releasing the unpolished renderings of his own creative brain. He notoriously releases the demos of every studio album he makes. Being off the grid digitally and influenced by video game soundtracks, the Beatles and new songs his friends show him, what we hear on One Wayne G is the result of DeMarco toying around with elements for the sake of loving the process, not because he’s trying to replicate another artist’s body of work. For that alone, you have to give credit where it’s due: Each song on One Wayne G sounds unequivocally like a Mac DeMarco joint, whether it be for better or for worse.
Some standout tracks are “Cowboy Shit,” “I Like Her” and “Fooled By Love.” The latter two have been road-tested and are certifiably dainty, romantic jams akin to the Here Comes the Cowboy tune “K.” “Cowboy Shit” feels like a sequel to Here Comes the Cowboy, and it features one of the wittier stories on the album: “The sheriff sits back and shines his badge / What a dirty old pig he is / The Navajo chief sheds a tear / Instead of flipping lids / The dusty old horse picks up his head / And soon it will begin / Singing ‘bout / Cowboy shit.” DeMarco often works in narrative glimpses and fragments, so when he attempts to give more complexity than a single scene, it’s nice to see him spread his wings into something greater than the typical “I love her but how could she ever love me?” type of bubbly self-doubt he’s leaned on too much since This Old Dog.
Once you whittle away the fat of those sub-one-minute songs, there’s a really lovely, unproblematic album in there. The bloat of One Wayne G can be distracting, but the meaty parts are all an upgrade from what we got on Here Comes the Cowboy four years ago. DeMarco’s place in—and attitude towards—the music industry in 2023 lines up with what One Wayne G is delivered to us as. He doesn’t feel any pressure to make an album on anyone else’s terms and, thanks to the enduring cultural archive of TikTok, he’s still accumulating fans through viral audio snippets of “On the Level” and “Chamber of Reflection.”
Thus, One Wayne G might just be the exact way that these songs were always supposed to be delivered to his fans. While those who have been mightily exhausted by DeMarco’s image and catalog over the last five years might scoff at the idea of a nine-hour project from someone who hasn’t made a stellar LP in seven years, those who still love him dearly will surely be invested enough to at least give all 199 songs a fair shake, to some degree.
If One Wayne G was just a collection of those 18 songs—“I Like Her,” “No Doubt About It,” “You Made The Bed,” “Fooled By Love,” “She Want The Sandwich,” “Proud True Toyota,” “She Get The Gold Star,” “Turn My TV On,” “Cowboy Shit,” “Inside The Beavers Dam,” “Ball For The Coach,” “Goodnight Baby,” “Scarecrow,” “Round Here,” “China,” “Stratocaster,” “Father Of The Year” and “The Truth”—I’d feel more inclined to rate the album higher. Because, in many ways, it’s a beautiful, fleeting presentation of DeMarco’s mastering of Ram-era McCartneyism: The Canadian lo-fi singer/songwriter knows how to make a pop tune, no matter how simple or complex. And, even in some of DeMarco’s unserious moments (“The beaver has a mantle / The mantle has a trophy / The trophy is for bowling baby” or “Topped up / In my new truck / And we’re hitting the road / Break down? / Not a chance, Chuck / Not in this Toyo’”), One Wayne G is mostly earnest, refusing to relegate itself to the Here Comes the Cowboy style of humor, where the punchlines often missed our chins.
A moment that sticks with me from One Wayne G is this one from “She Want The Sandwich”: “She want the sandwich / Baby / With mayo on a roll / I’ll go anywere she goes / I’ll get the sandwich / Baby / Lettuce and tomato / Baby / I love her but I don’t / Think she even really knows.” You might not believe there’s merit to any of that, or that DeMarco is just slapping one cutesy line beneath a hodgepodge of uninteresting word-vomit—and you’re probably right. But, it’s the same kind of absurdism and colloquial feel-goodness that made a poet like Richard Brautigan so infamous. It speaks to the unromantic facts of life, that, amid all of the boring, surface-level tasks, even the slightest affirmations are sublime and warranted. And DeMarco is at a point in his songwriting journey where writing about his fallible dad or his own sorrow isn’t as palatable as crafting delicate love songs for his partner Kiera, whom he’s been in a relationship with for most of his career.
On the track titled “The Truth,” we do get one glimpse of DeMarco attempting to get deep and introspective like he did on This Old Dog. “But debts that I owe to my old days / Won’t go away so soon / So I’d better go reap what I’ve sown / And keep my heart from the truth,” he sings atop a delicate, DeMarco-ism of a guitar strum. As we’ve grown to expect from him, the full story and context are nowhere to be found. But who comes to a Mac DeMarco record to do soul-searching? You come to his music to chill out and let your attention span go wherever it needs to. If we were rating One Wayne G on vibes alone, it’d pass the test with flying colors. But vibes don’t always equate to a world-shattering album.
Whether it’s DeMarco’s lack of interest in catering to what his still-growing fanbase wants—or if he just isn’t all that interested in making a straight-forward album again anytime soon—One Wayne G is the product of someone who doesn’t care but is still clever enough to hide the good stuff amid a dump of nothing. Like DeMarco himself, One Wayne G is a diamond-in-the-rough and an underdog. From the moment it was surprise-released on last Friday night, groans quickly rang in from the peanut gallery of Twitter.
The album is, most often, just DeMarco handing us a hard drive full of scraps and throwaway songs. Yet, there are gems within the tracklist. So what’s the catch? Well, it will take you over a third of a day to find them. If you have the patience—or even the interest—in sifting through two-minute ambient tracks or 90-second loops for as long as it would take to watch Titanic twice, you’ll have likely found something worthwhile by the album’s end. Does the sonic reward balance out the labor it takes to capture it? Probably not. One Wayne G was named in honor of hockey G.O.A.T. Wayne Gretzky—who spent nine seasons with DeMarco’s hometown Edmonton Oilers—and the tracklist’s final count is an homage to his number. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard from DeMarco before, but we might all be better off to never hear such a project from him ever again.
Matt Mitchell is Paste‘s assistant music editor. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, but you can find him online @yogurttowne.