To even the most casual Mac DeMarco listeners, it shouldn’t be hard to tell that the man is a skilled songwriter. From his days with Makeout Videotape to present, the 27-year-old has written more than his fair share of quality tunes, from ‘Island Groovies’ (one of the best songs released in the last 10 years, in my opinion) to ‘Chamber Of Reflection’. But if it shouldn’t be hard to tell that DeMarco is a highly talented songwriter, a lot of people seem to have missed it.

Moving past his charmingly gregarious clown-like personality has proved to be too much for a number of people, who hound him to reenact their favorite moments from clips they’ve already seen on the Internet. DeMarco made direct reference to this on 2014’s ‘Passing Out Pieces’ and yet the cycle has continued. But, with the release of This Old Dog, it would seem that DeMarco is ready to push the gimmicks away and force people to really hear what’s in his heart.

It almost sounds silly when you put it like that, but DeMarco’s music has clearly been bubbling with pent up emotion for years now. Even some of his lightest sounding songs, like ‘Cooking Up Something Good’, have been imbued with menacing imagery. (DeMarco has claimed the song is about his estranged father’s meth habit.) The aforementioned ‘Chamber Of Reflection’ and a number of cuts from his mini-LP, Another One, had signs of serious hurt and struggle, but as Stereogum wrote, the line connecting comedians and depressives is well-worn territory.

This Old Dog represents the clearest expression of DeMarco’s “darker” side. Unimpeded by groovy electric guitar riffs or lithe bass parts, most of the songs here play out with little more than an acoustic guitar and a drum machine. It is like DeMarco got out of his own way, eager for his voice to be heard.

This often leads to some seriously dark places. DeMarco has spoken at considerable length about his relationship with his father, who left when he was just four years old. In a Pitchfork profile around the release of 2014’s Salad Days, DeMarco described his father as “an alcoholic and an addict.” So it is quite alarming to hear at the outset of This Old Dog, on the track ‘My Old Man’, DeMarco sing, “Oh no, looks like I’m seein’ more of my old man in me.”

The impetus for this record was, supposedly, DeMarco’s move from New York to Los Angeles. Known for his prolific output, the demos he made for This Old Dog were given time to gestate and, like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, seem to have then been released almost untouched - and yet this album manages to sound like DeMarco’s most fully-realized effort. He still gives into goofy impulses — see the delightful pseudo-sexy ballad ‘For The First Time’ — but the emotional core is omnipresent.

‘On The Level’ stands as one of the record’s certifiable bests, offering a siren-like synth line played over a genuinely sexy bed of keys. If you didn’t know better, you might think the song was an early 80s sex masterpiece that somehow was lost by time. But if this still sounds like gimmick to you, don’t be confused. Even this track is consumed with grief, as DeMarco reckons with the pain his father inflicted upon his family: “Carrying a name/ Fall until my final day/ Now who’s there left to blame?”

I have to confess that I did not like this album on my first few listens. It took a month of gestation for the tracks to really weave their way into my brain, for own fears and anxieties to crop up, in order for me to see the brilliance of what DeMarco has done here. I miss the taut, danceable grooves, as I’m sure others will, but what we’ve got here is a much more mature album than Salad Days. DeMarco has shifted his musical style in a way that does not feel forced or as though he lost anything in the process. In fact, he feels though he is more refined than ever, offering beautiful and heartbreaking sentiments with a remarkable economy of language, all the while delivering another sonic masterpiece that will undoubtedly soundtrack all too many summer soirees this year. This Old Dog is proof that DeMarco could really be more than just the signal bearer for a musical fad. He is one of the best we’ve got right now.