Review: Mac Miller’s “Circles”

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Review: Mac Miller’s “Circles”

Zachary Somma, Copy Editor

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“Circles” is the posthumous sixth studio album from Pittsburgh-raised rapper and singer Mac Miller. In 2018, a little over a month after releasing his last project, “Swimming,” Miller was found dead in his Los Angeles home after overdosing on a mixture of drugs and alcohol.

Since his passing, there had been little information regarding upcoming leftover music from him, save for a few posthumous features. In early January, Miller’s estate, as well as producer Jon Brion, announced a new album would be coming the following week as well as dropping the single, “Good News”. According to Brion, “Circles” was meant to be a continuation and partner album to “Swimming,” and that it was mostly completed before Miller’s passing. That left Brion to fill in the gaps and touch everything up. So how did it all turn out, and what did Mac have to say before his death?

The album opens with the title track “Circles” and it is quite the emotional experience to hear Miller’s voice for the first time solo since his passing. The song’s instrumental is one of many laid-back, simple and soft backing tracks that complement and put the focus solely on Miller’s voice. This relationship works extremely well, as Miller pens some very powerful lyrics about struggling and failing to change himself as he, “just end[s] up right at the start of the line, drawing circles.” The songs “Hand Me Downs”, and “Surf” are similar in that the instrumental is minimal to allow Mac to shine. “Surf”, in particular, is an extremely noteworthy moment near the end of the record where Miller remarks about figuring things out “before it’s all over”, and his difficulty in finding somebody/someplace to call home, as he feels the most alone “standin’ in crowds”.

Despite the dark and solemn tones of the album in parts, other parts are surprisingly positive and almost cheery, with large, synth-filled backing tracks. The songs “Complicated”, “Woods”, and “I Can See” feature bouncy instrumentals that do sometimes clash with a lot of the rest of the album, including the lyrical content of those songs. “Woods” sees Miller singing about heartbreak and deeply asking “Do I love… Can I get enough?”, yet the rest of the track feels almost upbeat, not to mention that Miller’s singing does feel off in many parts.

That’s not to say that every track that features a brighter instrumental is bad though, as the previously mentioned “Good News” is a perfect mix of the two styles previously mentioned. The instrumental is light, plucky and soft enough that again it puts the focus on Mac’s intimate singing. The lyrics are emotional dive on the negative views he has on himself, that he wishes “that I could just get out of my god**** way”, and “Why I gotta build something so beautiful just to go set it on fire?” It also examines how he feels forced to only show the positive side of himself and to hide away his negative feelings from others, as “Good news… that’s all they want to hear.” Mac’s final verse is very poignant and emotional given his passing, as he says “I know maybe I’m too late… I’ll finally discover that there’s a whole lot me for me waitin’… that it ain’t that bad.”

There are a lot of highlights on “Circles,” many more than any low points. “Blue World” features a great sample that is flipped into an experimental beat that Miller delivers an amazing chorus and verses on. “That’s On Me” is a solid and emotional track that sees Mac recognizing his up and down mental state, and him taking the blame for any problems he’s caused while he’s hurting. The closing track, “Once A Day” is a satisfying end that again allows Mac to shine while he delivers some powerful bars about “just keep waiting for another open door to come up soon.”, while the last verse feels as if Mac knows he’s gone, as he gives some last advice to the listener; “Don’t keep it all in your head… you’re running low on regret. No tears, that’s keeping you wet, I think you gettin’ it now.” But by far, my favorite song has to be “Everybody”, a cover of the 1972 song “Everybody’s Gotta Live” by Arthur Lee. Originially a pure rock tune, Miller and Brion strip it down to just piano, light bass, and drums; and the song might be the most emotional point on the record. As the chorus goes, “Everybody’s gotta live, and everybody’s gonna die, everybody’s gonna try to have a good, good time, I think you know the reason why.”

Overall, “Circles” is a wonderful conclusion to Mac Miller’s career. While it’s unclear if this is the last we will hear Miller in his own music, if it is this was a great way to go out. While there are a few spots that feel slightly awkward or cobbled together, there are many more highlights and noteworthy tracks. The many softer instrumentals allow Mac to shine through, which he does brilliantly with great lyricism that can be hard to listen to knowing that he is gone. “Circles” is emotional ride and anybody who appreciated Miller’s music during any point in their lives should get a little choked up at the contents of the album. Rest easy, Mac.

Favorite Tracks: Everybody, Good News, Blue World

Least Favorite Track: Hands

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