This month’s release of the late Mac Miller’s final album, Circles, is an emotional, brilliantly handled posthumous project that gives many fans the right closure they need after the artist’s tragic death in September 2018. Circles was initially intended to be a companion album to Mac’s 2018 album Swimming; a dark, distressing album that mirrored his unfortunate struggles and demons at the time. Although Circles touches upon these same themes, this time, Mac Miller addresses his issues in a mode of self-reflection and acceptance, crafting a portrait of a more mature person, ready to move on to a new chapter of life. Sonically, Circles has a diverse range of beautiful instrumentals, ranging from synthy, low-fi beats to jazzy bass and live acoustics. The best way I can describe the general vibe of this album is that it’s an emotionally numbing, melancholic project that ultimately captures what Mac Miller did best and effectively portrayed his personal and musical evolution from Swimming. Although I only began listening to Mac Miller regularly in 2014, the way in which his sound continued to progress as he aged was extremely evident every time he released new music, and I’m sure his long-time, core fans would agree.
As I first listened to this album on my commute to Ryerson from Mississauga on a frigid Friday morning, so many thoughts and memories about Mac Miller and his short, but emphatic life came flooding back to me. I remembered the somber silence emanating from my family while I sat in the back seat of the car in Waterloo in late August of 2011. Mac Miller’s Best Day Ever mixtape (my brother’s favourite at the time) played as my brother left the car. I still remember my parents’ faces being a mix of worried optimism and anxiety as they watched their eldest child leave home for University for the first time. In the 8th track of Circles, “Hand me Downs”, Baro Sura’s chorus discusses starting a family, and therefore turning his jeans (genes) into hand me downs, and thinking about this moment, as well as all of the literal hand me downs my sister and I received from my brother during childhood gave me a rush of nostalgia.
After a few listens, this actually ended up being one of my favourite tracks from the album, along with Circles, Surf, and Good News. These songs, along with the rest on the project, are more closely related to blues, indie and folk, and a large part of that is because of his singing, the strings/chord progression that encompasses the album, the heavy use of ambient sounds, and the softer tone of his voice and the instrumentals. The four songs that I mentioned above in particular stood out to me as being extremely unique in sound, and set themselves apart from the pack. I really enjoyed the album as a whole, but I will admit that there were a few songs that sounded similar to each other over time. Over the past few years, Mac Miller had slowly begun to shift to this type of sound, ditching the often used 808 drums, trap-influenced beats, and rap style that shaped the sound of hip-hop in the 2010s.
As the album’s lead single; Good News began to fill up my headphones, his words brought me back to reality.
“There’s a whole lot more for me waitin’ on the other side
I’m always wonderin’ if it feel like summer
I know maybe I’m too late, I could make it there some other time
I’ll finally discover
That there’s a whole lot more for me waitin’”
These lyrics then transported me back to that devastating September afternoon as my girlfriend and I cried at the loss of such a universally beloved, young figure. After reports of his unintentional drug overdose were confirmed, the instant outpour of love, tribute, and honour towards the rapper was a painfully beautiful sight. I quickly realized that I would no longer be seeing him that November 25th, but that feeling was miniscule in comparison to the pain and suffering his friends, family, and fans went through at that time. It wasn’t until then that I realized how many people he impacted positively in his short career, and hearing the stories of those that had been supporting him since the beginning was truly touching.
When I initially heard that this album was going to be released, I was worried about it sounding incomplete and rushed, and I felt that the artistic integrity may be compromised if too many parties worked on it. I thought about the possibility of Mac’s vision getting lost in production, but my trepidation quickly faded as I began to listen while walking to the GO station. After hearing the title track (also called Circles), it was clear to me that a massive amount of meticulous thought and care went into the album, and it was a worthy celebration of the life of Mac Miller. Circles will likely be the last album ever released by Mac Miller, and I am happy to say that it’s an amazing addition to his already stellar discography.