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


Swimming: Before and After Mac Miller’s Death

When Swimming was first released in 2018, I was quick to listen to it. . . and was quick to forget about it. It wasn’t that it wasn’t good, I just didn’t find it very interesting; it seemed monotonous and there was a lot more singing than rapping, which Mac Miller was known for. I saw it got a lot of negative reviews by music critics as well; one even gave it a 3/10. I remember around that time thinking “Geez, this isn’t a great year for Mac”, and the next thing I heard was that he had died from an apparent overdose. To me, the saddest part was losing someone so young who had so much to give, and who had always tried to make himself and others happy. The more I thought about how tragic his death was, the more I started relistening to his music, and eventually I came back to Swimming. I approached it with a new perspective, realizing that this was his last gift to the world, and it was a completely different experience. Suddenly it all made sense; his singing was heartfelt and authentic, and even though it was off-key (which critics emphasized in their reviews), it was a refreshing break from the over-autotuned rappers of today. The instrumentation was also incredible, featuring trumpets, pianos, and violins, along with great production value, proving just how much Mac cared about making Swimming a thoughtful and genuine album.

Most important though were the lyrics, in which he talks about finally having reached a peace with the world. He had been known to struggle with drugs before, and he talks a lot about dealing with his inner-demons. It takes on an existential attitude as he talks about living a simple life and realizing that what he had been looking for was looking for him all along. In the end, Swimming was his most mature album yet, and yet nobody had seemed to realize it. Some part of me feels as if Mac knew he wasn’t going to live much longer, and that this last album was going to be his meditations on life before death. However, it’s sad that it took his death to fully appreciate this album. It begs the question: would it be better if he had chosen a simpler life and lived, or should we be happy that he gave so much to the world through his music while he was alive? Overall, I can’t recommend enough listening to this album, it’s a masterpiece. My favorite songs are Self Care, Jet Fuel, 2009, and So It Goes, which is the closing track of the album. These songs are the core of the album and show the real depth of Mac Miller, both musically and personally. Hopefully you find the album to be as genuine as I did, or if you listened to it before and weren’t impressed, try listening again. Either way, Mac Miller will always be remembered by the music community, and also by the people like me, who were fortunate enough to realize how wise and kind-hearted he truly was.

(Image Credits: Google Images)