When it was announced that a posthumous Mac Miller would be released this past Friday, new and old fans alike had a bit of a moment. Some of us excited, genuinely looking forward to hearing the accompaniment album to “Swimming,” which was released in 2018. However, for a large segment of Mac fans, the announcement was bittersweet.
Sure, it was exhilarating learning that we would once again be blessed with new content, but at an emotional cost.
I am a member of the latter group. I was secretly dreading its release, knowing that I would need to be emotionally present to take in this new album, carefully dissecting each lyric in an attempt to get inside and understand his genius once more, knowing that he is no longer here. Knowing the dark place he was in during its production, and the fact that he would never get to hear the applause and see the tears of his fans upon its release, was difficult.
However, after listening to “Circles” in full, I was no longer overcome with the discomfort of celebrating an artist’s development despite their untimely death, but rather illuminated with joy.
It hit me. When Mac passed away, an arsenal of new fans came flooding in while the rest of us mourned. It hurt. It pissed us off.
But once again, there will be an entirely new generation of fans — and this would be the first work to hit their ears. And frankly, I am so, so happy about that.
The album as a whole not only represents his emblematic sound, vocal variation, and clear understanding of rhythm, but also the melding of genres in each song, verse, exclamation.
While this album certainly isn’t the most exciting of Mac’s work, it flows beautifully and each era of his music is well-represented. A patchwork of his identity, and the impact he has left on the rap community, can be best described simply by listening to the album.
The collection’s namesake “Circles” kicks off the 12-song glory, and jumps right into that lovable raspy voice and seductively slow temple that Mac spent so long perfecting. The lyricism doesn’t hesitate — jumping into meta verses that even new fans can understand as raw and reflective: “I cannot be changed, no // Trust me, I've tried // I just end up right at the start of the line // Drawin' circles.”
“Complicated” follows with a bedroom pop-esque kick, featuring Mac’s moany goodness, loftiness and carefree nature. Even after Mac opened up about his demons and struggles, he was able to maintain this sense of acceptance, transformed into goofiness and a constant celebration of life. Its nostalgic feel translates further with “Blue World,” featuring an old-timey intro spiced up with electronic staccato beats that feed off his grunge and twang well.
The next hit, “Good News” was leaked in September of last year, and caused an uproar among his fan base. Not only is it uncomfortably real — with lyrics mirroring reality a bit too closely — but is surprisingly relaxing, like a ballad almost, without losing its engaging snap-along vibe.
“I Can See” blasts you right back to his “The Divine Feminine” era, but somehow meshes with the aesthetic of “Swimming” without a doubt. Daydream seduction meets existential crisis in this beautifully slow track.
To follow is “Everybody” and “Woods”, each bringing Mac’s grunge and flow to the forefront. “Hand Me Downs” is next, and shows off his ability to meld genres, voices, and instrumentals to create a unique experience — well, a five-minute one, at that.
“That’s On Me” is more of a gut-punch with its drawn-out chorus and sweet overtones, but “Hands” shortly breaks the solace up with its almost-annoying, yet somehow catchy background and basic flow mimicking his earlier years where he focused less on impressive beats and provocative content.
“Surf” and “Once A Day” conclude the album, the former a sexed-up acoustic ode to the human condition, the latter a dark reflection of Mac’s jazzy aspirations and raw vocalization.
While the musical merit of “Circles” is admirable in itself, the lyricism from this album — unsurprising, if you were familiar with Mac’s work before delving into this one — gives it the harrowing and timely feel that makes it so beautifully done. You don’t feel exhausted after listening, but heavier perhaps, in a way that makes you feel weathered, yet resilient, mournful, yet hopeful.
Mac may be gone, but his grit and refusal to adhere to a strictly-rap or R&B genre will continue to blast through the headphones of angsty young people, just now with a fresh addition to the collection.