What do you do with a Pittsburgh-bred rapper that made slick rap for college - from exploring jazz-funk melodies to enriching the love of a significant other - and fully contemplated the modal qualities of a virtuoso songwriter? Do you remember how innovative and driven that artist was to grant new essence through continuous listening or praise of his music? Through permission of his family, Mac Miller’s last album “Circles” was released, revealing the progressive consummation of a diverse career brought by an ethereal poet.
I knew this would be a tough release to chronicle, considering Miller’s untimely passing in September 2018, leaving a shockwave of heartbreak for his fans to experience. A chill man with an enigmatic artistry, Malcolm James McCormick left a treasure chest of albums/mixtapes characterized mainly of hip-hop, R&B, funk and jazz. From "Blue Slide Park” to "GOOD A.M.," we saw a young emcee cleansing himself of addiction and developing a coherent passion for honest art.
From "The Divine Feminine" phase to his latest release, he experimented with not only love, but also his mental state of self-discovery as a pure artist, tuning into surprising elements of collaborations that he was meant for. “Circles” is basically phase two to the prior release “Swimming,” providing the closure of lingering thoughts that Mac had left to answer on Earth.
The beginning, self-titled “Circles,” was immediately chilling as if Mac was wondering about his looming tragedy.
“Well, this is what it look like right before you fall / Stumblin' around, you've been guessing your direction / Next step, you can't see at all.”
Actually, it’s in reference to his last album track "So It Goes," returning to the starting point of the creativity he’s perfected.
An identifiable rap track “Blue World” discusses his ventures and his Devil (substance abuse) lurking behind, yet not letting it take over his life. His biblical bars remind me of his “Faces” days where he classified himself as inhuman. “Good News” is the first single that sets the content expectation of how Miller fully utilizes singing/songwriting and synth-heavy beats to cope with his journey. The music video showed Mac’s recording progress (looking happy with the closed pain) which is what the fans or media hoped to see - that Mac was in a good place.
“Oh, I hate the feeling / When you're high but you're underneath the ceiling /Got the cards in my hand, I hate dealing, yeah / Get everything I need then I'm gone, but it ain't stealing.”
If Mac was making music his own version of therapy, he must have been satisfied with sonically evolving into his best work yet. One of the favorite, reflective tracks “Hand Me Downs” has Miller coping with multiple instruments inside the studio, reminding us that family is always there to replace the anguish. It features a melancholy feel, but you experience the kindness from Miller’s heart emanating from the room.
This album is not fully meant to make you emotionally shattered, given the most diverse tracks “Complicated” and “Woods.” The main co-producer behind clearing this album for release, Jon Brion, gave remarkable guitar and synthesizer contributions reminiscent of the mid-80’s. Plenty of instrumentation which supposedly makes composing “Complicated” seems easy when you’re singing on life’s endless struggles.
"Hate love, heartbreak will have you bankrupt / Too many days in a daze, better wake up."
McCormick raps these lines on “Woods,” where he references his saddening breakup with Ariana Grande which drew him to spiral out of sobriety. However, I feel this draws inspiration from his other moniker Larry Lovestein, because it’s apparent Miller is in another dimension writing these soulful choruses.
The other pure rhyming track “Hands” still has some Swimming thoughts for questioning his “Self Care” away from his past mistakes. The track is nicely spoken; plus that careless swagger is still inherent from his mixtape raps. Miller takes full responsibility for his mentality and aims to pick others out of the deep end in “That’s On Me.” As he soul-searched through his own mirror, he closed a door to find the true quality of himself for “Swimming in Circles” as a companion album.
"I keep it honest as honesty gets / Don't know why I'm always talkin' if I'm not makin' sense / I've spent my life livin' with a lot of regrets / You throw me off my high horse, I'd probably fall to my death.”
A major theme on this LP is progression. As Mac examined to evolve himself, he reminds “Everybody” that although we’re not here forever physically, we should make our lives as outstanding and incomparable to our best capability.
The final track “Once a Day” is the peaceful goodbye to this work in progress, detailing that he was alright rising to a better version of himself daily. “Circles” references staying on your journey, in a circular path, to find your missing elements for a progressing life.
It’s still unreal that Mac Miller is gone; but rest assured, “Swimming in Circles” will live on forever as a prime example of a genuine man/musician wanting to fulfill his everlasting journey.
I rate this album 5 out of 5 Swoops.