A while ago I wrote a post about the album Swimming by Mac Miller, released only a few months before his tragic and sudden death. In that post, I focused on the perspective and depth that his death brought to the record; it was already a masterpiece of production and quality, but his passing brought new meaning to the solemn and haunting lyrics and changed the tone of the album to one of bittersweet mourning. I still listen to that album frequently and appreciate the unique insight it gives into the complicated mind and mixed emotions of Mac Miller right before he passed. Needless to say, I never expected that there would be another fully produced album coming out in 2020, almost 2 years after his death. The posthumous album Circles was released on the 17th of January, with little fanfare or spectacle, which already set it apart from most posthumous music releases from other young musicians who have passed recently. I had no idea what to expect; it was reported that he was already working on the album during the same time as Swimming, and that it was intended as a sister album, but I had to wonder how much he had actually finished and how much was just his label dragging out clips and ideas that he had left behind, never intended to be finished. Not to mention that Swimming seemed like the capstone of his musical career, a fitting and bittersweet monument to his character and legacy. Clearly Circles had a lot of expectations to live up to, both as a posthumous project and as the final gift of Mac Miller to the world, and I am relieved to say that it provides the catharsis that the world was looking for.
The album features 12 songs, covering a wide range of styles and genres, but all united by the bittersweet singing and lyricism of Mac himself. It is remarkable just how much material his production team (led by Jon Brion) had to work with, and how well they flushed out the songs and ideas that he left behind. Some tracks show more strain than others unfortunately, featuring simple choruses or structures, hinting at the limited recordings they had to work with. Regardless, the production is always beautiful and perfectly complements the feelings that Mac conveys through his singing, making each song feel complete, even if not outstanding. In general, many people criticized his singing on Swimming, a gradual departure from his iconic experimental rapping, but in Circles he has fully developed his voice and style and it is tragically gorgeous. Each song is saturated with personality by his relaxed and melancholy presentation, more fitting and bittersweet than ever after his passing. My personal favorites are Good News, Circles, Hand Me Downs, and I Can See, which are all diverse in their own way, but convey his state of mind so elegantly that it’s hard not to cry, thinking about how such an emotionally complex and wholesome person was taken from a world that needed him. Overall, Circles is a tragically self-aware album that reflects on the last thoughts of Mac Miller, a young kid from Pittsburg who made a profound impact on those who knew him and left the world a better place. Finally, I’ll leave you with these words from the legend himself:
“My god, it go on and on
Just like a circle, I go back where I’m from”
– So It Goes, Swimming