If there’s one thing I remember vividly from this past January, it’s the morning I woke up to the release of Mac Miller’s posthumous album Circles. Dazed and confused from my slumber, yet ecstatic and smiling from ear to ear like a kid on Christmas Day, I grabbed my headphones and absorbed what I had been anticipating for what felt like a lifetime.
As intimate lyrics and melancholy instrumentals swirled in my head, I began to feel let down. Before you turn the page and call me a hater, you should know that I was not let down by the production quality, or more importantly, the substance of Mac’s work. Rather, I wasn’t ready to hear the message Mac delivers on Circles. I was hoping for the punctuation at the end of Mac’s sentence to be a jubilant exclamation point, reminiscent of the happy-go-lucky rapper from older tracks like “Senior Skip Day.” I was hoping for the selfless undertones that encompassed GOOD A.M., the album that let the world know that he was coming to terms with himself. But Circles is not that. Rather, it is the last stop on a journey that few artists come to experience; it is the culmination of a beautiful yet bittersweet evolution.
Mac Miller’s music was not composed for the passive listener. I first discovered Mac at a point in my life where I felt detached from the world around me; I found myself completely entranced by the zany, honest, intricate version of himself Mac indulges in his music. I never felt like I was just listening to Mac Miller; I was getting to know him.
Above all, Circles is an album that is meant to be taken bluntly for what it is. It presents itself with complete vulnerability and clarity, and sets the stage for Mac to truly unwrap and identify the emotions that battled relentlessly within him. It’s about self realization and the gut wrenching pain that it’s accompanied by. However, Mac’s approach to the subject comes from a place of peace and acceptance. The album’s opener highlights this beautifully with the comforting plucks of a gloomy guitar, ethereal keys and a haunting whisper saying “I can keep you safe, I can keep you safe / Do not be afraid, do not be afraid / You’re feeling sorry, I’m feeling fine / Don’t you put any more stress on yourself, it’s one day at a time.”
Circles aims to reassure fans that Mac’s passing wasn’t the end of his legacy as an artist; the feelings he diligently unwraps on this project are ones that we shouldn’t feel sorry for. Much like taking things one day at a time, Mac takes the full span of this album to vocalize his demons, all the while reminding listeners that they should do the same. “It’s one day at a time” is something that most can latch onto and apply to their own lives. Moreover, he urges listeners to take a similar approach to their personal battles, most notably on the album’s closer “Once a Day.” Mac’s voice floats over a muted synth’s chord progression, saying, “Don’t keep it all in your head / The only place that you know nobody can ever see.” Everything from the dream-like instrumentals to the notes of self reassurance make Circles therapeutic in nature.
Though Circles is composed of contradicting ideas, specifically the personal narrative of a down-on-his-luck blues artist with an unusual amount of optimism, these concepts dance with each other, making for a tender, personal experience like no other. This concept is at the forefront of the track “Blue World,” where Mac paints the picture of the devil at his doorstep. Here he drives home the message that no matter what you’re going through, there’s always something positive to focus on. “Think I lost my mind / Reality’s so hard to find / When the devil tryna call your line / But shit, I always shine/ Even when the light dim.” This sentiment is akin to a quote from the late Stanley Kubrick, who said “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” This concept stretches itself across Circles as Mac retreats into his mind only to leap into the open in an instant. I think this is a battle that everyone fights on a daily basis, even if we’re uncomfortable with admitting it. Circles tackles this fight head on, and more importantly, tells us that it’s a fight worth having. It’s okay to feel emotions on both ends of the spectrum; it’s just part of being human.
As a companion album to his 2018 project Swimming, Circles brings equilibrium to many of Swimming’s main ideas. Swimming was about finding solace in the abyss, and Circles shows Mac’s plan to find his way out. It serves as a capstone to Mac’s evolution as an artist. The album veers from Mac’s usual approach to songwriting, particularly his affinity for dropping insane bars on albums like Blue Slide Park, and more realized works like the jazz-influenced The Divine Feminine. However, Circles incorporates far more singing, mainly to enhance the emotional factor, but is representative of Mac’s evolution. Similar to previous works, Mac still utilizes the technique of stumbling through bars to build tension – and resolving them with finesse – leaving each track feeling serene. This approach on Circles resembles the process of spring cleaning: he combs through his mind with intent, removing the clutter, and leaving his
true values on the shelf. Above all, Swimming and Circles are projects that are produced with the ideals that Mac wanted, rather than what fans wanted to hear. Yet, these albums are some of Mac’s most fully realized projects, and truly allowed him to clear his mind and resolve his feelings.
Getting to know Mac Miller through his music over the years was an absolute pleasure, and I can say whole heartedly that watching him evolve was never predictable. From the bomb-dropping kid on Blue Slide Park, to the abstract, drug-influenced enigma trapped inside of Faces, to the somber and personal figure on Circles, Mac had one hell of a ride. Though Circles was not what I had hoped for, it was the perfect resolution to an artist that I hold near and dear to my heart.