The late Mac Miller’s final and posthumously produced album “Circles” was released this past month to a mix of surprise, delight and melancholy. According to one of Mac’s family members, “Circles” was meant to be a complementary album to go alongside his prior LP, “Swimming,” as it was mentioned “swimming in circles” was the main concept connecting the two.
On its own, “Circles” offers smooth mellow tracks, as well as edgy pop-leaning beats that teeter the line between rap and pop—a trademark feature of Miller’s discography. The titular track, “Circles,” is a raw, somber opener that still has notes reminiscent of “Swimming’s” whimsical tone. The irony in “Circles” implying something infinite paired with the finality of Miller’s death is probably the most poignant aspect of this album. “Swimming,” which was released a couple months before he died, is filled with uplifting, silky songs that seem to melt into your ears, and it was probably my favorite album of his before “Circles” was released. This is a continuation in the sense that after the emotional rollercoaster of “Swimming,” Miller is somehow back to the feelings that brought him here in the first place—and he’s tired of swimming. The second track, “Complicated,” is an uplifting song that sounds breezy, accompanied by masterfully produced beats that are so precisely effortless, echoing Miller’s need for simplicity in the song. “Blue World” is dreamy, while track number four, the initially released single “Good News,” feels like an authentic observation of our media-ridden society, a Mac-esque meditation on the pitfalls of living in the public eye. “Everybody” shows off Miller’s vocals as he sings for the whole song instead of rapping over vibrant percussion. The song doesn’t care, and when you listen to it, neither do you.
The album seems to tell the story of Mac’s frustrations with his reality, hence his need to “spend the whole day in his head” and “dream all day”—that’s what we loved about Miller. He genuinely brings his world into his music, and his words seem to come from beyond the boundaries of what is socially acceptable to reveal. Some of these songs are concerning, echoing depression mixed with lighthearted messages, all stemming from an amalgamation of feelings. Miller’s authenticity was part of his appeal, and after his accidental overdose, the world mourned the loss of another pained artist. The album poses existential questions in a jarringly simplistic way—with lyrics like “reality so hard to find” and “sometimes the truth don’t sound like the truth/maybe cuz it ain’t,” you can hear the tension in Mac’s being.
What is seemingly the elephant in the room while listening to this album is the fact that Miller—rest his soul—passed away in 2018. Hearing the voice of someone you know doesn’t speak anymore is an eerie feeling that bitterly coats this album. Taking a bite into his tracks—no matter how sweet—is tainted with bitterness by his unfortunate early passing. Knowing Miller is gone is the thin veil that smears his words, and makes you think differently about his lyrics and what he may have meant, what could have been done. No matter what you think about the music, this is the last piece of art Mac Miller will ever create. The good vibes from this album are seemingly neutralized by the grim circumstances around Miller’s untimely demise. Some may speculate if the lyrics “some people want to live forever, that’s way too long I just want to get through the day” in the song “Complicated” may have indicated the severity of Miller’s depression and his drug habits that accompanied it, that maybe if someone had heard this earlier, maybe if he got some help, maybe, just maybe, in some parallel universe he would be alive and well. This album really takes us into the mind of the late rapper, a head brimming with hope, simplicity and wonder—you can’t help but find sweetness in the unrefined exterior.