The story of a tired man and his beautiful ghost: Mac Miller’s “Circles” review
Kyle Delorey, Staff Writer
“Well, this is what it looks like right before you fall” are the incredibly chilling first words of the posthumous album “Circles” by Pittsburg rapper, producer and multi musician Mac Miller. Back in September of 2018, shortly after the release of his album “Swimming,” Miller was found dead in his Studio City home in California. His death shook up the music world, as Miller had one of the largest cult followings in all of Hip-Hop. His death made me put his entire discography into perspective, and when I had all his projects laid out in front of me, I realized just how diverse and deep it truly was.
Being only 26 when he died, Miller had released 13 mixtapes, two live albums and five studio albums; each of these projects were more unique and creative than the last. When his estate announced that Miller was working on a companion piece to 2018’s “Swimming,” entitled “Circles,” I was ecstatic, but skeptical. The last few years saw several artists lose their lives too young. Their respective labels then proceed to release a handful of watered down and incomplete projects, which did not come close to the quality of their projects from when they were alive. I was worried Miller would receive this treatment as well. However, according to his estate, Miller was nearly done with the album before he passed, as only a few drum and string tracks had to be added. Any worries I had about the album faded immediately as I began listening.
The opening and titular track “Circles” is a wrecking ball of an intro. The lyrics paint an image of Miller’s state of mind before his passing, and it is a depressing picture. Miller claims he is “drawing circles” in his life, struggling to make any real changes to his lifestyle. The background is an incredibly soft and simple beat with slight drums sprinkled over a typically-smooth Mac Miller bassline. All in all, the track hits the listener like a truck and is a great way to kick off the album.
The second track, “Complicated,” is a little more upbeat, at least in terms of its instrumental. Miller’s creativity shines on this track as the various synths and bass grooves used are extremely unique to one another. While the beat may be something new, the subject matter is more of the same: a glimpse into Miller’s struggle with depression. With lines like, “Please can I just get through a day?” and “I’m way too young to be getting old,” this is yet another tough pill to swallow. The third track, “Blue World,” is an absolute 180 from the previous two tracks. It features a sample from The Four Freshmen’s “It’s a Blue World,” and turns their sugar sweet vocal blends into an incredibly jumpy beat that is as infectious as it is groovy. This song just oozes Miller, between the bouncy flow that he uses as he seamlessly floats from barline to barline to the heavy funk influences found in the beat. “Blue World” is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
After the breath of happiness from the previous track, Miller hits the listener with yet another tearjerker within the song “Good News.” As Miller sings atop a simple yet sweet muted string line, he speaks of how exhausted he really was. He sings, “I’m so tired of being so tired” and “Good News, that’s all they want to hear.” These are just two more lines from a long list of chilling bars from this project that really make it seem like Miller has a recording studio in Heaven. The fifth track, “I Can See,”shows Miller’s iconic psychedelic influences as he raps over what can only be described as a synth waltz. While the track was floaty and beautiful, the lyrics are once again warped due to Miller’s passing. One line in particular that stood out to me was, “I’m hitting the ground, I fell from the top, You never expect to drop so hold on.”
The next track, “Everybody” is one of the album’s most memorable moments. The track is a cover of Love’s song “Everybody’s Gotta Live,” and for obvious reasons, it is as heartbreaking as it is catchy. The track adds a drum beat and trades Love’s acoustic guitar strumming for a hotel lobby-esque piano. To hear Miller try to squeeze out the lyrics, “Everybody’s gotta live, and everybody’s gotta die” is one of the toughest moments of the album, and honestly he makes it tough to see which part of that statement he is less thrilled about. The original track is one of my favorite songs period, so to have Miller do it justice was an experience in itself. The next few tracks, “Woods,” “Hand Me Downs” and “That’s On Me,” are all very similar. They are sad, they are slow and they are composed with a variety of different string, synth and guitar tracks. This part of the album began to just fade into one big part, as there was not much diversity between the tracks. This is not to say I did not like them all, I just found them all incredibly similar and would essentially be repeating myself at this point in the review.
The tenth track on the album is titled “Hands,” and it uses a repetitive sample of someone saying “Yeah” in a similar way to a metronome ticking. Miller takes the challenge of rapping over this syncopated sample, as it often clashes with the rest of the instrumental. The subject matter is sporadic as it addresses Miller’s ego, relationships and those who “love to see [him] lonely.” The 11th track, “Surf,” is an adorable love song, and is an absolute gear shift in terms of subject matter. For the first time on the album, Miller talks about living a long life with “water in the flowers” giving him and his loved ones room to grow. It is a hopeful, happy and relaxing track that feels like the musical equivalent of sitting in a hammock on a summer day.
However, this feeling was short-lived as the last track of the album, “Once a Day,” is heart wrenching. The beat is incredibly sparse, as it really only has a few chime hits, one or two synth lines and a limited beat, thus bringing all the focus to Miller’s words. There is no psychedelic trip to go on, no fun samples to groove with, nothing but Miller’s exhausted voice and the story he has to tell. What is most haunting about this track is his use of the past tense. Miller says, “I wonder if they even cared at all” and “It never reallymattered what I had to say.” These lines sucker punch the listener right in the face, as they are forced to ask the question, “Did he know his end was near?” It was a tear-jerking finale to an overall emotionally raw album.
While overall I loved the project, it has its faults. Some of Miller’s singing is not always in tune, and I did find some songs more forgettable than others, especially towards the middle of the album. I also had some problems with a few of the drum tracks used, as some felt bland at times and just uncreative; two things Miller was never accused of being. However, a lot of my faults with the project can be attested to by the fact that it was incomplete after Miller’s passing and therefore is not 100% his vision. That being said for a posthumous album, I was blown away. I would give the project a strong 8-8.5/10, as it rests on your ears like a beautiful painting of the saddest image you can think of. This will most likely be the last album we ever get from Mac Miller, and I am content with that.