Album Review: Mac Miller – Circles

By Jessica Jones, Copy Editor
[Warner Records Inc; 2020]
Rating: 8.5/10 

Key tracks: “Circles”, “Blue World”, “Good News”, “Surf” 

In 2018, shortly before his tragic death, rapper, singer, songwriter and producer Mac Miller left us with Swimming, his final studio album meant to be the first of a three-part project. On Jan. 17, Miller gifted us from above with his first posthumous album Circles, an album about acceptance, life and the unfinished business Miller left here on earth. The album was already in the works before his death and was completed by producer Jon Brion.

Read more: Album Review: Rex Orange County – Pony

One of the most haunting things about Circles is the way Miller sings as if he wrote these songs from the grave—almost as if he predicted his own fate would come sooner than later. Although Circles is a somber album in terms of the situation it came from, Miller has the ability to bring solace and peace of mind to his fans, with some of his most earnest and honest songs to date on the album. 

The title track “Circles” begins with a soft bass riff and a legato twinkling piano, which makes listeners feel as if they are reuniting with an old friend: “Well, this is what it looks like right before you fall.” The chilling lines in the song feel like they could be Miller’s first thoughts from beyond: “And I cannot be changed, I cannot be changed, no / Trust me I’ve tried I just end up right at the start of the line / Drawing circles.” The tender melody has a strong sense of validity and is delivered with a sincerity that provides a connection to his last album—Miller is swimming in circles.  

“Blue World” starts with a sample from The Four Freshman’s “It’s A Blue World”, appropriately entering with the line “It’s a blue world without you / It’s a blue world alone,” foreshadowing our feelings about Miller today. Out of all the songs on Circles,  “Blue World” is one of the more upbeat tracks, featuring a harmonizing techno loop, which pairs perfectly with the message of the song: don’t trip over the small stuff. Reminiscent of classic Miller in terms of the faster-paced style, the chorus slows down for just long enough for Miller to reassure listeners with the line, “Hey, one of these days we’ll all get by / Don’t be afraid, don’t fall in line.”

Surpassing “Self Care” as Mac’s most popular single, “Good News”, the first single to be released posthumously, is one of the most candid songs on the album. The song’s quiet, plucky guitar and somber tone assist with getting Miller’s point across. He feels lost in his own thoughts and is finding himself doubting his place in the world: “Get everything I need then I’m gone, but it ain’t stealing / Can I get a break? / I wish that I could just get out my goddamn way / What is there to say?” Feelings of confusion take over, and we’re exposed to the circle Miller is caught in—fame, fortune and being in the spotlight, all while struggling with mental illness and addiction.

The chorus is far from cryptic: “Good news, good news, good news that’s all they wanna hear / No, they don’t like it when I’m down / But when I’m flying, oh it make ’em so uncomfortable / So different, what’s the difference?” One of Miller’s greatest talents as a musician was making music for the people and giving his fans something they could relate to.

Following the rest of the album’s theme, “Surf” is a romantic ballad about Miller’s mental state and personal problems. By stepping out and analyzing his own situation from an objective standpoint, he allows listeners to take a glimpse into his own insecurities: “Sometimes I get lonely not when I’m alone / But it’s more when I’m standin’ in crowds / That I’m feelin’ the most on my own.” The summery vibe of the song feels warm, despite its heavy message. Electrifying guitar riffs paired with passionate lyrics like “So much of this world is above us, baby / They might tell you that I went crazy” add a timeless air to the song. It’s enough to make you cry. 

Nearly every song on Circles references, connects or at least contains a lyric that has a double meaning to death at some point. In “Good News”, the line “I know maybe I’m too late, I could make it there some other time / Then I’ll finally discover that it ain’t that bad, ain’t so bad / Well, it ain’t that bad, mm / At least it don’t gotta be no more” sends chills up your spine. 

Miller didn’t want to be a member of the infamous 27 Club and never was—he, unfortunately, died before he made it to 27. Losing an artist far too soon is undeniably a tragedy, but it has the power to bring people together. Music is made to be celebrated and bring people closer, which is exactly what Miller would have wanted with Circles. As chilling as it is listening to some of Miller’s final thoughts, comfort can be found in knowing that we now have an album that is beautifully and thoughtfully crafted.

Miller was an inspiration to many fans and was highly respected in the rap community. His memory continues to live on in his music. Because of the way that Miller lived his life as a visionary and a romantic, it is pertinent that Circles does just what Miller did—breaking circle with a bit of soul-searching. 

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