Circles, a Posthumous Album by Mac Miller

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.

Circles, Mac Miller January 17, 2020

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

 

Thoughts and questions on Personal and Institutional Change

Hello! This was a post I made to one of my EECS professors here at UofM. I am curious about opinions and ideas that people have on instituting effective methods for personal change, as well as institutional reform. If you have any opinions or thoughts on the topic, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

 

“I’m a student from last semester who met with you once after class to discuss the difficulties and logistics of creating personal change. We talked a bit about how challenging it is to “will” oneself to change – it’s unlikely that a drug addict not faced with the macro consequences of their decisions (or external pressures) would suddenly “decide” to stop. Tangentially, I still think that narrative structure tell us a lot about how people change; the Call to Adventure, or some inciting event, sets us up to experience challenge and failure, which eventually has us “return to the familiar” with a changed mindset – a structure that seems to map well to how people realistically end up becoming better or worse. Similarly, I think hitting “rock bottom” for addicts might be an inciting event that eventually leads to rehabilitation and change.

Given that we can’t exactly control if and when we experience “inciting events” in our lives (i.e. Frodo [or, I suppose, Sam, if you think he’s the real hero] can’t have chosen to have Gandalf give the One Ring to him; Chihiro didn’t exactly ask to be dropped into a magical spirit world), what are some ways we may be able to push ourselves towards change? Should we take actions that would increase our probability of having “inciting events?” Or is gradual change entirely possible, and we should introduce small, unfamiliar events into our lives? How much blame should I place upon myself for my failures to change (is rationalizing the difficulties of change just an excuse for a lack of willpower, or laziness, and the only solution is just to get up and stop being lazy and do it already you punk)?

 

It seems that experiencing failure is one such impetus, and you recommended essentially “setting yourself up for failure in a low-risk environment” (i.e. taking on too many responsibilities to handle within a relatively low-consequence situation) as a possibility. Are there any other studied ways on how people improve?

 

Besides the issue of personal change, what are some ideas on institutional change? I’m two seasons into The Wire, and its perspectives on progress are bleak. (spoiler-free ahead) The show makes a point that characters are perpetually trapped in “the game,” institutionalized by some inevitable human propensity for crime, or the bureaucracy of “chain of command”, or even familial pressures, all components that seem to strip the characters of agency (and perhaps blame?) and the ability to impact the system. Some of the Barksdale crew are barely even aware of life outside “the game” – in which case, it seems moral responsibility and blame are highly dubious for these characters, more so than for others. It’s easy to see that Stringer Bell and Wee-Bey have sin, but Wallace? It seems obvious that micro-level actions look hopeless against the churning machine of “the game,” or the systems in place (are students, too, stuck in some “game” of competitive high schools, colleges, medical programs, etc? To become software engineers and doctors?). Are there studied ways that end up creating meaningful change in our systems? The second season does seem to suggest that at the very least, technological progress will naturally wipe out the past and change the future, although not necessarily for the better in the case of the Sobotkas and the dock workers. Are we truly relegated to just waiting around for improvements? What are some opinions?

 

I get that these are all probably difficult questions without clear answers (some of which I think might teeter close to opinions on moral responsibility and free will) – I’m really just interested in personal opinions or thoughts from others on these topics (this wall-of-text is probably just an excuse because I wanted to talk about The Wire). Feel free not to answer this post, too – professors are busy, and I wouldn’t mind! Thanks for reading!

 

 

TL;DR – What are some ways we might be able to impact meaningful, positive change on ourselves, and our institutions?”

Basil + Gideon #8: Ghost Diner

I’m trying out this 3 row page layout instead of my usual 4 row layout. I’m still fairly new to comics so I want to test different strategies for storytelling and figure out what works best for me. Not sure about this one yet, I might switch back next week, but first impressions: 3 rows means I make less panels overall than the previous layout, so the visual narrative needs to be more succinct, but I can put a little more time and detail into each panel. If anyone has a favorite comic layout or suggestions and would like to share, I’d love to hear it!

Basil + Gideon is an ongoing narrative comic, if this is your first time reading check out the first installment here!

The Mirror That He Holds

what does it mean to have someone hold up to the mirror to you?

who is that person I see, staring back at me?

he holds the hand mirror to me, Sarah see this is you

I look again, mirror in hand it is

me, the mirror breaks sometimes so I glue the shards together

somebody know me too well

the reflection has scars so I wait a few weeks until I see no more traces

shades of gray everywhere, do I like what I see?

my biases, anxieties manifested

witty remarks and flushed cheeks

of bruised knees and accidental brushing off

 

my mirror, typically rose-tinted

not anymore, perhaps this is what having another person

is for? I am vulnerable

but safe to repair under forgiving, loving gaze

someone to force me to care 

things my parents say but I do not listen

are the same things he tells me

 

little tweaks here and there

I change because I want to be better.

Relevant song: Being Alive by Stephen Sondheim

Someone to crowd you with love
Someone to force you to care
Someone to make you come through
Who’ll always be there, as frightened as you
Of being alive
Being alive, being alive, being alive. 

(Image taken using Pentax K1000, Kodak Colorplus 200)

Marge Makes Comics #21: Marge Fixes Cats

I’m sorry I keep talking about Cats I’M SORRY I KEEP TALKING ABOUT CATS!!!!

Speaking of 2D animated versions of Cats, read this article by Cartoon Brew if you want to hear about Steven Spielberg’s attempts to make a Cats movie in the 90’s and see some gorgeous character design (and get very angry about how ugly the Cats movie is). Or just watch Cats Don’t Dance! It’s delightful and Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t write it!