Recorded across cities in the States and Canada during a coast-to coast road trip, the beginning of Edmonton-raised Mac DeMarco’s latest album, Five Easy Hot Dogs, sets listeners on the precipice of a journey, both figuratively and literally. Each song in the album is named after the city it was recorded in, and together they send listeners on an earthy, but immaterial, pilgrimage across a variety of dreamscapes, as if the album was made for ghosts to listen to as they roam around our cities. All 14 tracks are produced, performed, and written by DeMarco.
The album opens with “Gualala,” a mysterious track that features a beautifully dizzying combination of determined synths and confounding acoustic strings. It sets the tone for the rest of the album: a foggy thought, a deep breath, and a series of emotions sent out to the winds.
Entirely instrumental, Five Easy Hot Dogs separates itself from DeMarco’s past projects and is defined by gentle acoustic guitar melodies, omnipresent bass lines, and guest appearances of synths, flute, and electric guitar. The instrumentation of the project is sparse, but effective at painting the voiceless indie-cowboy ballads of DeMarco. The only voice heard in the entire album is a faint four count at the top of the tracklist.
The simplicity of the tracks makes it easy to feel each groove of DeMarco’s fingerprints on the project — it’s distinctly his music. Every new instrument DeMarco incorporates on different tracks completely transforms the vibes of his songs. One that sticks out in particular is his use of the flute in “Portland 2,” which creates a stormy atmosphere, as if you’re having a spooky premonition or have just barely won a fist fight. And that’s what makes this record so special: every track brings out a nuanced feeling, emotion, or dream-like memory, making each song more than just a sad or happy song. “Vancouver” is the energy of steppin out in some new threads, “Edmonton” sounds like a productive morning, and “Crescent City” feels like putting a sweater on while watching a breezy summer sunset.
The unsung heroes of this album are the hand percussion instruments — traces of wooden scrapers, maracas, and claves add texture to the songs, making the tracks feel human and lived in. DeMarco’s commitment to the thematic basics of the album, dressed with various accents that differ in each song, make the record feel more like an audio tasting menu rather than an indie album.
Five Easy Hot Dogs is a haunting and easy-going album made for lazy days, impromptu travels, and loving self-reflections. It listens like an old record you would find at a garage sale that makes you think “man, I love music.” Overall, DeMarco delivers a spiritually honest assortment of sounds that is emblematically a Mac DeMarco album, but one that lets the listener fill in the blank lyrics of every track.