Mac Miller – “Circles” Album Review

Story posted January 22, 2020 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by William Roche

“Malcom was well into the process of recording his companion album to ‘Swimming,’ entitled ‘Circles.’ Two different styles complementing each other, completing a circle—Swimming in Circles was the concept.”

The announcement made by Mac Miller’s family and producer Jon Brion on Jan. 8 caused fans and the music world to erupt. From nursing majors to music majors, every type of fan was talking and posting about the newest album announcement. Miller’s personality and the legacy he left behind made him special. Bubbling with laughter and a meaning for life, Mac Miller brought out the good in his fans.

“Circles” is a posthumous album by Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller. Having passed away a little over a month after the release of “Swimming,” the rapper left behind a companion album that, with the help of his family and close friend and producer, fans can hear more of what he had to say.

“Don’t you put any more stress on yourself/It’s one day at a time…” are lyrics off the opening track. Backed by instrumentals that sound like the listener is lost inside a dream, “Circles” is similar to the themes brought up in “Swimming”: taking care of yourself and putting your best foot forward. As Miller grew up, the listeners did as well. He is speaking to the audience and trying to teach it something. However, he isn’t preaching. With the cadence of his rapping and the soft background tracks, he is speaking to the listener as a friend.

The lyrics that circle inside Mac Miller’s head spin in a slow rotation where everything is thought out carefully. “'Fore I start to think about the future/First, can I please get through a day?”

The themes on each track fit inside this perfectly drawn circle, diving into the head of Miller. His frustrations, regrets, and even happy moments rotate in his mind.

The subtle themes of “Circles” are the problems Miller faced in his own life and inside his own head. On “Complications,” he touches on this subject which brings the listener back to lyrics on the “Swimming” album: “I’d do anything for a way out of my head…” Yet over the synthesizer instrumentals and the flow of lyrics, it transitions the listener into a more uptempo beat on “Blue World.” Miller delves deeper into the hard parts of his life. Whether that be relationships, his music career or the thoughts inside his head.

“Good News,” the first single released, hits the nail on the head with what Miller was trying to say. The lyrics touch on the media and people surrounding Miller’s life. “Good news, good news, good news/That's all they wanna hear/No, they don't like it when I’m down.” Mental health being a pressing issue in the world today, Miller is speaking the truth that everyone needs to hear. No one likes it when people are upset, but when they’re too happy, people get uncomfortable.

After “Good News,” the instrumentals on the album become less synthesized, and Mac Miller displays his range. Following the release of “Swimming,” Mac Miller gave a list of artists that changed his life: OutKast, Radiohead, Bob Dylan and Miles Davis to name a few. Not defined by genre and being instrumentally gifted in drums, piano, guitar, bass and more, Mac Miller had versatility, and it shows on a cover song of soul musician Arthur Lee on a mainstream “hip-hop” album.

Originally titled “Everybody’s Gotta Live,” Miller shortened it to “Everybody.” Along with the subtle title change, he also brought his own vibe to it. With soft and sweet piano in the intro, Miller brings in a band that sounds like it could just as easily be playing in a jazz coffee house. Showing off Miller’s vocal range, “Everybody” is not just filler on the album. Instead, it places another idea inside the circle with “Everybody just wanna have a good, good time/I think you know the reason why.”

It is hard to listen to this album postmortem, but hearing Miller say these words after he has passed gives the listener an inspiring feeling to really listen to what Miller was trying to imply in his lyrics: happiness.

“Hand Me Downs” is the only track to feature Baro, who sings the chorus. Backed by milky guitar, bass and drum tracks, the instrumentals are rich and slow, assuring that the audience hears every lyric Miller recited. “And all I ever needed was somebody with some reason who can keep me sane,” he sings. Miller has dealt with heartbreak and loss, yet he still wants to thank them for what they have given him. They made him think about his own life and the type of person who he needs in his life in order to be his happiest.

Yet his mind goes on in a circle, and he bounces back to blaming himself for everything he’s done on “That’s on Me.” With bouncy instrumentals in a minor-sounding key, Miller tries to put all the weight of life on himself, which is a common personality trait for not only Mac Miller but for his fans as well.

On “Surf,” thoughts continue to crash and spin like swimming in the ocean during a storm. “Sometimes I get lonely/Not when I’m alone/But it’s more when I'm standin’ in crowds/That I’m feelin’ the most on my own,” Miller says. Like a wave crashing down, Miller is revealing his insecurities. Yet by doing so, it makes him more secure with who he wanted to be.

Throughout the album, Miller stresses the importance of how he needs to be himself. All while being a friend to listeners who he hopes he can inspire and help to speak out if need be.

Lastly, the video for “Once a Day” is heartbreaking and chill-inducing. While YouTube comments fill the screen, Miller plays over a soft piano, and a slew of emotions fill the air. “Don’t ask me what I think/It never really mattered what I had to say.”

Mac Miller was an emotional and extraordinary musician and person. His influences and heart filled every lyric and chord progression that he wrote. Yet, he continued to look down on himself for reasons no critic or psychologist can understand. Even though he is gone, it will always matter what he has to say.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewer’s Favorite Song: “Circles,” “Blue World,” “Surf,” and “Once a Day”

Reviewer’s Least Favorite Song: N/A

 

William Roche is a junior majoring in film-video. To contact him, email wtr5043@psu.edu.