Mac DeMarco was trying to break out of an artistic rut, a process that led to the conception of his latest project, Five Easy Hot Dogs. The album, released on Jan. 20, follows DeMarco’s road trip after a Bay Area show in mid-January of last year. He began driving north up the California coastline, planning to stay on the road and write every day until he had completed a record. The songs were mixed in childhood bedrooms and basements of friends’ houses; each title corresponds to the city where it was written. The album tracks his journey chronologically, encapsulating DeMarco’s musical and geographical progression in an ambitious but ultimately flat way.
While writing on the road, DeMarco explored the limits of minimalism: The record was made with only an eight-channel system, DeMarco’s guitars, a bass, a half-sawed drum kit, some mics, an old Model D portable synthesizer, and a keyboard. The sound is stripped down, lightly percussive, cohesive, and ever-shifting.
The album features a few standout songs, such as “Gualala,” which exhibits DeMarco’s dreamy, plucky guitar riffs and classic soft drums. It sounds like a lazy afternoon on a Californian highway: repetitive, lightly pushing forward, but nonetheless relatable. DeMarco later makes his way to the Canadian West Coast, starting in “Victoria.” A melodic xylophone line over consistent bongos and guitar perfectly mimics the town’s slow pace and hippy-ish culture. He eventually moves into “Vancouver” with a metropolitan coolness and an almost jazzy guitar and bass line that’s the most playful of all the tracks.
The album is far from bad, but tends towards blandness. The instrumentals are simple, and the songs lack his usual compelling lyricism. His slow, repetitive arrangements mimic the album’s theme of losing yourself on an endless road trip; DeMarco succeeds in making his boredom musically palpable, but this leads to a somewhat dull album overall. This road trip was supposed to break him out of his routine, but instead is reminiscent of a bizarre, transient fugue state. Through each song, and the story of the album’s conception, he tracks a listless artistic journey north.