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Four Tet - Live at Alexandra Palace London, 8th and 9th May 2019 Music Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden’s new live album reminds us that he is a stellar performer, not just a producer.
The British producer Kieran Hebden has one of the most distinctive signatures in electronic music. First, a gravelly drum machine; then, some jewel-toned synth pads; and, finally, a strip of harp or chimes or wordless cooing, unspooling like wrinkled ribbon.

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Mac DeMarco - Here Comes the Cowboy Music Album Reviews

The latest from the indie rock rapscallion is an often pretty, occasionally frustrating record that was recorded quickly, but still sounds labored over.

In 2015, Mac DeMarco was living in Far Rockaway in the shadow of JFK airport. He hadn’t yet properly crossed over to the mainstream, but in the indie world in which he operated, he’d become something of a slacker icon. He was hanging out with Tyler, the Creator, playing shows to legions of young folks who saw something in him that they could relate to. The mini-album he recorded at home in Rockaway, Another One, was unremarkable if pleasant. DeMarco doubled down on what he’d become known for: syrupy songs about love that were dazed and detached over wobbly guitar licks that sounded like he was going to fall asleep while playing them. There wasn’t much to grab on to. But it was also the point in his career where it became undeniably clear that DeMarco was on to something. At the end of the album, he gave out his address and invited listeners to drop by to hang out. A lot of them actually showed up.


Since then, DeMarco has moved to Los Angeles, and released a spare and unexpectedly deep album called This Old Dog, which helped solidify his spot as indie’s goofball leading man. His new album follows closely in spirit to the endearing and open-hearted of This Old Dog. DeMarco says he named the album Here Comes the Cowboy because he liked using the word “cowboy” as a nickname or term of endearment, which, like many things in the Mac DeMarco universe, is half inside joke, half inadvertent trendsetting. Here Comes the Cowboy is an often pretty, occasionally frustrating record that was recorded quickly, but still sounds labored over. His music evolves in inches: he iterates on the same sound but tweaks it subtly with every release. Lyrics become more direct. Ideas become simplified. The crustiness of his early songs is mostly gone here.

Here Comes the Cowboy arrives at a time when there are more eyes trained on DeMarco than ever before. He’s now famous enough that a cult of personality has developed around him. He will always be the goofy guy with the Alfred E. Neuman smile, whether he’s singing about his relationship with his dad, or writing weirdly moving odes to cigarettes. DeMarco is approachable and never too serious, which means that there’s sort of two Mac DeMarcos: the everyman who is down to drink some tallboys, and the popular artist who makes naive music that sounds unsullied by the unfortunate intrusiveness of the real world.

The album has some genuinely great moments: “Nobody” is gorgeous, lush, and laconic—a slow-burning and burned-out take on a classic California stoner jam. Similarly, “All of Our Yesterdays” is a fluid update of Mac DeMarco’s signature sound: a gentle melancholy so deeply embedded in the track that it takes a few listens to notice that it’s there at all. His music might sound largely the same, but even in DeMarco’s world, time still passes, life continues, and we all fight against getting older, harder, and more cynical.

Frustratingly, what should be appealing about the album—the breeziness and low-stakes, anything-goes atmosphere—is also what makes it impossible to latch onto the bulk of the songs. On “Preoccupied,” DeMarco sounds literally preoccupied. You can virtually hear him staring out the window while he sings his way through half-formed thoughts about opening your mind and filling it with bullshit. The best part is the birds chirping in the background—they give some texture to the oddly sterile world DeMarco has constructed. Stripped down tracks like “K” are fine enough, but never really seem to go anywhere, mainly because they lack the ramshackle aw shucks-ness of his best songs. You’ll find yourself wishing for something a bit more fun, or at least something with a bit more verve to it.

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So what to make of “Choo Choo”? The watered-down funk track features an actual train whistle backing up DeMarco’s falsetto refrain of, you guessed it, “Choo Choo.” Is this song a joke? Sure, probably. A song for children? There’s been better. DeMarco is a vocal fan of Modern Lovers’ Jonathan Richman, who found the sweet spot between humor and a kind of knowing sadness. DeMarco can also do this well. On stage, he’s all pranks and jokes; on record he’s largely attempting to get at the core of universal human ideas. “Choo Choo” is neither funny nor insightful. In a different era, it’d be a whimsical stop on the way to the next song. Now, it just feels like a waste of time.

Here Comes the Cowboy doesn’t have any of the quirkiness or heartbreaking details of 2, or the airtight jams of Salad Days, or the refinement of This Old Dog. It sounds nice, but for a lot of its runtime, it also sounds like DeMarco is exhausted, like he’s ready to move on and try something new but is trapped in a creative holding pattern. It’s possible that he’s aware of this himself. On “Little Dogs March” he sings “hope you had your fun...all those days are over now.” Sounds about right.


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