Circles: Album Review

Mason Dredge

Mac Miller had a tumultuous first half of 2018 that saw him go through a very public split with long-time girlfriend Ariana Grande and a DUI charge. In August of that year, he released his fifth album “Swimming”. This album, despite the seemingly downward spiral he was in, was an overtly optimistic one in which Miller rapped almost solely about positive mental health and how he felt okay.

This made his sudden passing barely a month later all the more tragic. 

The music world mourned the 26-year-old as his story seemed to come to a sudden, unfinished end. However, Miller still had a few things left to say which comes in the form of the posthumous album “Circles”.

This issue with posthumous albums is that they often come off as exploitative, but thankfully, this is anything but the case with “Circles”.

Already partially recorded at the time of his passing and finished by musician Jon Brion, every track on the album is rich, layered and full of substance. It’s nothing like the cheap cash grabs these types of albums tend to be.

“We simply know that it was important to Malcolm for the world to hear it,” Miller’s estate said when they announced the project.

The most standout aspect of the album is the production. Every single song has something special that digs into your ears and touches the soul

From the plucky, calm guitars of “Good News” to the punchy folk sound of “That’s On Me” or the glitzy, synth groove of “Complicated” and especially the song “Blue World,” which takes a 1950’s jazz sample and distorts into a funky electro beat, every instrumental is inventive and cool, giving you no choice but to bop your head.

Miller forgoes rapping for most of the project, opting to sing. In the past, his singing was inconsistent to say the least, but on “Circles”, it’s greatly improved. Whether this is due to some music magic employed by Brion or Miller finding his voice is unclear, but the end result is heartbreakingly passionate.

In spite of the sad circumstances surrounding the album, Miller’s lyrics are once again mostly optimistic but in a more mature and complex way than on “Swimming.”

Miller paints himself as a man that’s tired, as a man looking for a way to make things better. He understands that there’s little he can do about who he is (“I cannot be changed, no, trust me I’ve tried,” Miller sings in the opening track) but every song is still imbued with the hope of something more.

It’s a brave and honest take on “being okay.” Miller’s pain and past are ingrained into his bones, there’s nothing he can do, but he isn’t wearing a perpetual frown. Pain changes a person and the way to reconcile that isn’t to ignore it and smile but to understand the reality and persevere. While there’s no way to confirm if this was Miller’s mental state at the end of his life, that’s the feeling the music gives.

If there’s one complaint to be had, it’s that it’s not very cohesive as an album, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a simple collection of songs that radiates good vibes. It’s bittersweet, sure, but it’s also a fulfilling, enlightening and beautiful ending to Miller’s story.

[email protected]