Mac Miller has come down and gifted the universe with a posthumous album almost two years after his tragic, unexpected death.
As I die hard fan myself, I never thought I would ever hear another Mac album again; let alone an accompaniment to his last album, “Swimming.” His family took to Instagram last week to coyly hint at fans to expect a new album that Mac was working on finishing right before his passing.
“Malcom was well into the process of recording his companion album to Swimming, entitled Circles. Two different styles complementing each other, completing a circle – Swimming in Circles was the concept.”
Miller’s last album “Swimming” told the story of his fight to stay afloat amidst all his inner demons that were drowning and consuming him. Miller’s innate ability to tap into self-reflection and harness, nearly every emotional state that is required of the human experience, is what makes his music so incredibly universal. However, on “Swimming,” Mac seemed to be focused on the long journey that he had ahead in order to heal and achieve inner peace. “Circles” is more rooted in self-acceptance and learning to love the seemingly never-ending circle of battling inner trauma. The album sonically feels as though you are taking a trip around the sun – marveling at the way Mac seems to relish in the comfort of beginnings and endings; the circle of life.
Miller’s true gift lies in songwriting. His power of weaving and contorting melodies cannot be contained or defined by mere genres, or labels. Mac worked very closely with producer and composer, Jon Brion, on “Swimming” – where he helped him in cultivating a more jazz and soul infused sound that is evident in Mac’s artistic style. Miller has always gravitated towards sounds that are quite rare to see an MC on – flowing over full on blaring horns, piano instrumentals, and angelic strings.
“Circles” gives fans access to the music Mac has been making in the privacy of his own home – drawing more from emotional vulnerability by singing as opposed to straight rapping. Not only is Mac taking full advantage of his vocal range but seems to be more drawn towards straight up acoustic rifts, piano ballads, and experimental electronic pockets.
Miller’s growth and potential is fully maximized in, “Circles.” Each song sonically shape-shifts, keeping fans on their toes. Mac proves he is the unifying factor in his music, that whatever he touches will be pure magic. The cohesiveness of “Circles” resides in Mac’s spirit that aligns each track together until you see his full vision come to life like the reveal of the sun shining through a stained-glass window.
Mac doesn’t let the beat the carry him, instead we see him harmonizing over intimately soft cymbals and vibraphones. In opening track “Circles,” Miller contemplates the patterns that seem to be evident in his life – regressive behaviors, falling in and out of bad habits. He can see his craving and longing to be free from these internal chains, but each step forward only seems to amount to steps back.
He sings, “Well this is what it look like, right before you fall. Stumblin around, you’ve been guessing your direction. Next step, you can’t see at all. Who am I to blame? Who am I to blame though? And I cannot be changed, I cannot be changed, no. Trust me, I’ve tried. I just end up right at the start of the line, drawin circles.”
Self-deprecation is tossed aside, and Miller instead seeks to embrace and honor each part of himself; his desire and potential to grow and his inability to escape his own sense of self. Although we can hear the longing for change in his voice, Mac’s prioritization has always been on displaying the truth of what he is currently going through and who he is. “Circles” is about learning to accept the highs and lows of life. Mac always seems to have a devil and angel on each of his shoulders throughout the album – listening and honoring both instantaneously.
In spite of the fact that we see Mac struggling to balance both sides of himself, it’s seems as though he is still trying to nurture and comfort his fans through their own struggles. On the track “Blue World,” the beat almost has a disco feel to it with high pitched vocal samples being doubled.
He raps, “The devil on my doorstep, bein so shady. We don’t gotta let him in, don’t trip. F*** the bulls***. I’m here to make it all better with a little music for you. I don’t do enough for you, without you it’s the color blue.”
Mac speaks into existence with his desire to soothe and aide others, while at the same time craving co-dependency when left alone to battle his inner conflicts. This paradox of wanting to be a savior for others, while acknowledging you need some saving too is best expressed in the track, “Hand Me Downs.”
He raps, “And all I ever needed was somebody with some reason who can keep me sane. Ever since I can remember I’ve been keeping it together, but I’m feeling strange.”
Miller reveals that the way he copes and deals with substance abuse and inner demons is through the sanctuary of a partner, through receiving love. What’s blatantly apparent is that Miller has always been that savior for his fans, even long after his death. While exposing his regrets and toxic coping mechanisms, he is able to channel a sense of immense safety to his fans – something that Miller has always delivered but his desire to do so comes full circle.
“Circles” is the culmination of everything Miller has been working towards both in his professional career and personal strides. This album is the score to his life – sorrow, gentle, and moving. This is the essence of Mac Miller and his energy will continue to be a gift as it’s makes it way around the globe. The last track on the album, “Once a Day,” had been leaked right after Miller passed, as a stripped down video of him playing the piano, completely in his element. The fully fleshed and finished track is now out, keeping that same sense of wisdom and love for life that it evoked at the time of his passing.
Mac Miller re-assures fans that he isn’t going anywhere. The piano keys envelop over his voice as he sings, “Once a day, I rise. Once a day, I fall asleep with you. I just keep waiting for another open door.”