• Frank Tremain

Review | Mac Miller - Circles

Circles, Mac Miller’s final album and companion to Swimming, is a precious celebration of Malcolm McCormick’s life.

In September 2018, a month after releasing his fifth studio album Swimming, Mac Miller passed away from an accidental drug overdose. Long gone was his original frat-rap style, with Swimming sonically following his 2016 release, The Divine Feminine. While The Divine Feminine seemed to portray Miller in his most soulful and loved-up, Swimming caught the Pittsburgh rapper sometimes drowning, sometimes staying afloat with his warm funk-infused jazz rap. Since his passing, there had been two posthumous features from Mac Miller including "Time" by Free Nationals and 88-Keys and Sia's “That’s Life.”

Fresh into the New Year, Mac Miller’s estate announced, via Instagram, the release date for Circles alongside the release of the album’s single, “Good News.” In the announcement, the conception behind the companion album was explained and Jon Brion’s contribution was detailed. Miller was working on Circles during a similar period as he was Swimming and intended to release it as a companion album to complete a cycle of swimming in circles. Jon Brion is a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and composer who most Hip-Hop heads will remember for his work on Kanye West’s Late Registration. Brion had “cleared his calendar to help Malcolm fine-tune” the early version of Circles and then decided to dedicate himself to finishing the project after the news of Miller’s passing. In the estate’s announcement, they express their gratitude to Brion, as do most fans, as it seems he’s carefully captured Mac Miller’s gentle and comforting character through the soft and intimate instrumental work.

The opening title track fits as an epilogue to his death and a foreword to his afterlife. “Circles” seems like a special moment for his family and close friends, aiming to provide comfort in his passing as it shows even he has found contentment in his mortality. The slow start before the opening lyrics, “Well, this is what it looks like right before you fall”, is jarringly emotional. The straightforwardness in tracks like “Circles” and “Good News” is beautiful in its simplicity and sentimentality. Though unlike some of his contemporaries, the use of simplicity is never boring, but only soothing. Amongst this mix, the more upbeat and groovy elements of “Complicated” and “Blue World” are bursts of joy. His optimism and confidence is evident in “Blue World” where he says “when the devil tryna call your line, but shit, I always shine.” In comparison to Swimming, Miller seems more at peace with himself and where he is at. He still makes reference to the feeling of loneliness on tracks like the shimmering synth-filled “I Can See” where he states, “I need somebody to save me before I drive myself crazy.” However, the foresight of his passing eerily creates a reassuring persona that he carries on “Everybody” and “Woods”.

As the only feature on the album, the vocals from Australian rapper, Baro, stand out on “Hands Me Down” to give Miller room to showcase his rapping ability. He raps about his methods of coping with being in a negative mental space and here we’re reminded of his love for music as if the album wasn’t enough convincing. At his most folk-like, “That’s On Me” still blends elements of emo-rap, as we hear Mac Miller at his most apologetic. From being known as the white frat-rap artist from Pittsburgh to creating an album where he opts to sing far more frequently, Mac Miller’s artistic evolution should be compared with that of Kanye West and Tyler, The Creator. Despite this, almost as if knowing this would be his last work, Mac Miller includes styles and themes from his previous works with how “Hands” is reminiscent of his 2014 mixtape Faces. As the only rap exclusive song, “Hands” doesn’t sit out of place but instead lands in a place of nostalgia. With strong Jack Johnson vibes, the closure presented in “Surf” is uplifting, as it feels his consciousness lives on, letting us know the better place he now stays at. To end the album, and restart the circle, “Once A Day” slows everything down, to share one last intimate moment. From the opening moments of Swimming on “Come Back to Earth” where he expresses “I just need a way out of my head” to now on the final track of Circles, where he knows the true benefit of finding this and urging us, “don’t keep it all in your head.”

Trying to criticise Circles only helps to find more things to love about it. After a second or third listen, you might find the continuous calm piano and guitar to become overused, only for the sparkle of the synths and strings to draw you back in. Circles is concise, simple and cinematic. Though we’ll never know what the album may have sounded like if Mac Miller was there to see it be released, Jon Brion and Mac’s family have done a brilliant effort in demonstrating how posthumous albums should be handled. It’s representative of Mac Miller at his creative peak, that now leaves us to only wonder the true potential of this side of him. Thankfully, this wasn’t the first time that he had tapped into this talent, though unfortunately, it would be the last. Mac Miller left us with a near-complete discography and Circles is purely the raw and perfect closing chapter.

Best Songs: Circles, Everybody, Woods.


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