Mac Miller’s Circles: A Review

Mac Miller’s Circles is the late Pittsburgh musician’s unimpeachable masterwork. Concise, heartfelt, and deeply moving, the 12-track record released through REMember Music & Warner Brothers runs as thoughtful ruminations from a man on the other side.

 Upon its release, Circles was billed as a “companion album” to Swimming, the final record released when Miller was still alive. While Miller never finished production on the album, close collaborator Jon Brion completed it before its release.

Despite its billing as a companion album, sonically, the two are not extremely similar. To understand the importance of this sonic departure, however, it is vital to take a look back at Miller’s catalog.

Early in his career, Mac was the stereotypical frat rapper – shallow (but catchy) lyrics over up-tempo instrumentals designed, obviously, for parties. Despite its popularity in the early 2010s, in hip-hop circles, as well as music circles in general, this form of rap was not taken seriously. His debut album, Blue Slide Park, for example, received a 1.0 out of 10 on the legendary music review site Pitchfork.

 “Mac Miller’s debut is the first independently distributed debut album to go #1 in 16 years,” wrote Jordan Sargent, “but the Pittsburgh rapper is mostly just a crushingly bland and intolerable version of Wiz Khalifa.”

 While Miller somewhat broke out of this box as the years progressed, proving himself with release after release, culminating in the crushingly dark, expertly written Faces mixtape, Miller never quite earned the respect of the music world at large.

A New Direction

By the time Swimming was released in August 2018, however, Miller had carved out a solid niche for himself within the music world, which made his passing, due to a drug overdose (something he had struggled with his entire career) all the more devastating.

Swimming earned the respect of his peers and critics at large thanks to its beautiful instrumentation, expertly crafted lyrics, and generally positive message. However, most importantly, at its core, Swimming was still a rap album.

 “And I was drownin’, but now I’m swimmin’,” the Pittsburgh native sung on the album’s opener “Come Back to Earth”, “through stressful waters to relief.”

Circles was a complete departure from the genre that Miller had been a part of his whole career. However, unlike derivative artists such as Machine Gun Kelly and Post Malone, who used hip-hop as a jumping off ground for musical careers in other genres, Miller never wavered in his respect for the culture.

This shows in the music found on Circles. The album feels like a man unburdened, making music simply for the joy of making music. The album’s lead single, “Good News,” reads and sounds like the peaceful last moments of a man content with his fate, whatever it may be.

This theme runs throughout the album: “Everybody’s gotta live/And everybody’s gotta die/Everybody just wanna have a good, good time/I think you know the reason why,” Miller sings on “Everybody,” a cover of Arthur Lee’s 1972 single.

 The album closes with the melancholy, reflective “Once a Day,” and in an eerie chorus, Miller sings “Every now and again, baby, I get high.” Generally, the album feels like a ghost given the opportunity to make one last album to give to their fans. In this case, the ghost delivered a masterpiece.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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