Mac Miller’s “Circles”: A review

Caleb M.S. — Staff Writer

One does not often wish for a conclusion to something good, but the conclusions come regardless. As the adage goes: “All good things must come to an end.” I remember where I was when I read the alert stating Mac Miller had passed away of accidental drug overdose at age 26, only seven years older than I was at the time. Even in recent memory, 21 year-old artist Juice WRLD died of a seizure, 20 year-old XXXTentacion was killed in a drive-by shooting, and Lil Peep, another 20 year-old, was also taken by an accidental drug overdose. Mac Miller had only released his album Swimming a month prior to his death and was reportedly working on a companion album to the acclaimed work, which was intended to be released 90 days after the initial release of Swimming. Just under two years after Miller wanted us to hear it, the companion album, Circles, has arrived.

circles.jpg

From an immediate technical standpoint, it is important to recognize Miller’s sound engineer, close friend, and composer-producer Jon Brion finalized the work. But, at its heart, Circles is all Mac, maybe even the most archetypical Mac Miller work to date.

Circles, as a companion album, completes the narrative begun in Swimming; a narrative of pain, mental health struggles, and addiction, which is easier to understand nearly two years removed from the artist’s death. However, Circles is more redemptive than its predecessor. Circles finds Miller coming to terms with his place and, while he is still obviously hurting and self-destructive even in the title track of the album, growth is clear. The hopeful lines of the second track on the album, “Complicated,” explain the situation best: “Some people say they want to live forever/
Without any complications/Does it always gotta, does it always gotta/Gotta be so complicated/Well, I’m way too young to be gettin’ old.”

Much like the preceding album, Circles is chilled out, relaxed, and reflective. Miller does not need to shout to get his point across. The lo-fi nature of the instrumentation on the album allows poignant lyrical moments to shine through, and Miller’s increasingly poetic lines resonate with somber strength while the thematic narrative of both Circles and Swimming are built and brought to completion. With this statement being made, it is important to note that there are beautifully complex instrumental moments on the piece as well. “I Can See” opens with a beautiful synth run, reminiscent of Flower Boy era Tyler, the Creator. “Blue World” also makes for a stand out instrumental moment, with Miller rapping contently over a glitchy beat comprised of warm chords and vocal samples. Warm, jazzy, borrowed chords and layered instrumentals are nothing new to a Mac Miller album, as his fondness for playing with a live band was noted upon in his last few years of life.

Lyrically, Circles set itself as the strongest album Miller released, without even viewing the penned lyrics through the lens of loss. Objectively, Miller is at his strongest on this album. The artist raps significantly less than any work before, and sings more over the beat in each song. There are stand out moments in “Blue World,” and “Good News,” where Miller draws up on an energy reminiscent of his previous works, but this album as a whole work is distinctly modern Mac Miller.

“All good things must come to an end,” is how the adage goes, but it might be completed “but the end does not detract from everything which came before it.” Mac Miller raps on a previous album GO:OD AM: “To everyone that sells me drugs/don’t mix it with that bullshit/I’m not hoping to join the 27 club.” In doing so he spoke a strange not-quite self-fulfilling prophecy, as three years after delivering that verse he passed away of drugs laced with fentanyl, a year short of joining the notorious ranks of artists dying at the age of 27. The concluding track of Circles “Once a Day” feels just as beautiful, deep, morose, and simultaneously unfinished as the life of Mac Miller does. In the event you listen to this album, I ask you to take away one single line from this final track: “And everybody means something…But now and then, why can’t we just be fine.” Rest easy, Malcom.

SONG BREAKDOWN:

WILL LISTEN TO AGAIN:

Circles

Blue World

Good News

I Can See

Once a Day

DELIGHTFULLY MEH:

Woods

That’s On Me

BURN IT DOWN:

N/A

DARK HORSE:

Surf

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