By: Michael Kevin |
Back in September 2018, the music world was shocked by the death of Pittsburgh-based rapper, Malcolm James McCormick, known by his stage name Mac Miller, after an accidental drug overdose at his residence at Los Angeles, California. He died a few months after the release of his critically-acclaimed album Swimming; during the time of his unexpected passing, he was in the process of finishing another album titled Circles, mending it following Swimming into the concept “Swimming in Circles”. Eventually, the production of Circles was halted, and after almost more than a year after his death, the album was fully completed earlier this January by Jon Brion, who worked on the album alongside Mac Miller before his death. It was later announced by Miller’s residence through Instagram that the album would be released worldwide.
Generally, Circles combines several genres into the album, including emo, rap and RnB; the themes of the album range from mental healing, the feeling of being lost and directionless, to self reflection, resulting in a very personal piece on Miller’s struggles with depression and anxiety, as previously told through Swimming. These themes would later resonate into each of the songs in the album, starting from the titular slow ballad “Circles”; in the song, Miller shows signs of feeling lost and not knowing how to change his situation and get out of a seemingly endless cycle, as shown by the lyrics “It goes around like the hands that keep countin’ the time/ Drawin’ circles”. Soon after comes a soulful RnB melody with synths and percussion coating Miller’s lyrics about daily stresses and complications in “Complicated,” sounding bittersweet as it gets. This sounds similar to what comes after in “Blue World,” in which Miller talks and reflects about challenges and the cruelty of how the world works, and later suggesting his listeners not to fall into those challenges. And lastly, a story of his lyrical roller coaster and how he’s ready to rebuild himself again and again, coated with classical 90s RnB feel in “I Can See.”
Moving on, comes “Good News,” which became the first song by Miller released after his death—a minimalistic ballad talking about how Miller got pressured by his own surroundings that wanted to see only his positive side and not his struggles, as told in both Circles and Swimming. Some of the song’s lyrics seemingly foreshadow his accidental death with subtle references of heaven and afterlife, with a video clip accompanying the song containing some of Miller’s finest moments before his death. Following “Good News,” comes another standout titled “Everybody,” which is Miller’s own rendition of Arthur Lee’s 1972 single “Everybody’s Gotta Live,” with similar minimalistic vibes as “Good News” accompanied by the instrumentals of piano keys and guitar. Later followed by “Woods” and “Hand Me Downs”, both songs are simplistic, laid-back songs fused with influences of pop and RnB through the heavy usage of bass, guitar and synth, with additional vocals by Baro Sura on “Hand Me Downs.” The last remaining songs (”That’s on Me,” “Hands, Surf,” “Once a Day”) are definitely solid enough to end the album on a high note without feeling too lackluster and repetitive.
Overall, Circles is arguably Miller’s best and most personal work on his discography, while following the premise of his previous release Swimming really well, with props to Jon Brion for finishing and producing what might Mac Miller would have wanted out of Circles. Everything in this album sounds like Mac Miller’s personal diary, with most of the songs hitting deep with his gut-wrenching lyrics accompanied by great and consistent instrumentals—minimalistic without being too shallow and flat, and does not feel over-produced as well. His death still feels surreal, not to mention listeners and fans alike cannot hear live renditions of Circles from Miller himself, yet Circles can be considered as a perfect parting gift from Mac Miller towards his biggest fans and music listeners alike. Rest in peace, Malcolm James McCormick—you’ll be sorely missed.