MAC MILLER – CIRCLES REVIEW

When I saw that this album was announced last week, I knew I would it would be a tough record to write about for me. I mean, I am not doing to lie, I have been trying to finish an article about Mac’s legacy and how much his music means to me since I started this blog; every time I try to finish it I just get too emotional and I can’t. This man’s music helped me through some of the toughest points of my life and I can never thank him enough for that. I will never completely be over the tragedy of his passing. It would be a disservice to Mac’s legacy, his family, and the hip hop world in general, though, if I just didn’t write about Circles, so I am putting it emotions away to get through this one. As I stated in my review of Lil Peep’s Everybody’s Everything, I have always felt weird about reviewing posthumous albums because it is hard to know if the artist would have wanted the songs that were released to have been released in that way(or at all). But from all of the information released about this record, Mac Miller had intended to release it around the time that he passed as a companion record to his excellent album Swimming, and he had actually pretty much-completed Circles before he died. Because of this, I feel more comfortable reviewing it like I would review a normal album because I honestly trust that his family would not put this music out if they didn’t truly believe that Mac wanted it to be released. With all of that being said, that is enough introduction for me; I am sure(and would hope) that y’all reading this know enough about Mac for me to not have to write a background for his career in this piece. Please let me know how you feel about Circles in the comments below and let me know what your favorite tracks are!

Well, this is what it look like right before you fall. Stumblin’ around, you’ve been guessing your direction. Next step, you can’t see at all…

Mac Miller’s final album starts out with the title track, ‘Circles.’ The composition of this track is so simple and pure. I love how easy going and soulful the guitar will and piano melodies are. I also really love the reverb-heavy bass provided in the background of this song, because it provides a little weird anxious feeling; even though we want everything to be calm and sweet and beautiful, sometimes the world just won’t let that happen. The lyrics of this track follow this feeling that the instrumental provides perfectly. Mac is trying to ensure whoever he is talking to that everything will be alright, and that they will be able to protect each other. As he is saying this, though, he is drowning his emotions in substance abuse to the point where he can’t even see straight. It is amazing how self-aware Mac Miller was. The contrast between the beautiful instrumentals and “false confidence” of the lyricism provided in this track is a main theme for Circles as a whole. A feeling of helplessness and longing for things to just play comes through heavily on this next track, ‘Complicated.’ This one is definitely one of my favorite songs on this album; the jazzy synths used to make the instrumental remind me so much of Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, which I love to this day, and Mac’s vocals are so sweet and perfect for the tome of the song. You can really hear Mac’s pain in the lyrics of this one; I mean it’s so sad and tough to think about what he could have been going through when he said stuff like: Some people say they want to live forever. That’s too long, I’ll just get through today… After some sampled vocals from the Motown classic track ‘It’s A Blue World’ by the Four Freshman, the vibe of the super funky and jazzy synths from ‘Complicated’ continue onto the song ‘Blue World’ as well. I really love the transition between these two songs; I especially appreciate the sample at the beginning of ‘Blue World’ because after the song breaks down into the beat and melody it is easy to notice the nuances and intricacies of how the instrumentals from ‘Complicated’ and ‘Blue World’ are so different yet so similar. Lyrically, ‘Blue World’ and ‘Complicated’ are not too far off from each other as well. The main difference between the lyrical tones of these two tracks is that on ‘Complicated’ Mac seems to be so alone, mainly because he has been isolating himself, and on ‘Blue World’ he is seeming to admit to himself that he needs someone to help and be there for him, just as he needs to help and be there for this person he is talking about as well. ‘Complicated’ and ‘Blue World’ just go so well together and transition into each other perfectly; I do not know if I am going to find another back-to-back song transition that I like more than this one on any other album this year, and that is saying a lot because it is only January.

I spent the whole day in my head, do a little spring cleaning. I’m always too busy dreaming, maybe I should wake up instead. A lot of things I regret, but I just say I forget. Why can’t it just be easy? Why does everybody need me to stay? Oh, I hate the feeling…

‘Good News’ was the only single released off of Circles; not only was it our first indication of new Mac Miller music on the way, but it was also the first piece of new music we had heard in any capacity since Mac passed away. The instrumental for this song is so melancholy yet chill, calm yet sad; it sets the tone for the song so perfectly. The riff is so simple and has so much soul, and the minimalist approach to the backing melody and the beat fit together so well with it. This song is another moment on this album where it is evident just how self-aware Mac Miller was. He knew exactly what his problems were and knew exactly what the problems surrounding him were as well; he just could not fix any of it. This song is so relatable to me; the fact that Mac knew everyone around him needed him to be upbeat and positive and happy when he just could not do so hits home so hard. This is such a horrible amount of weight to bear. It is really tough to tell those people who need you that you are not okay and you can not help them the way you to; Mac obviously could never get himself to say no to those people he loved, and it weighed him down so much. ‘I Can See’ has quickly become a fan favorite for many reasons. For starters, the neo-soul instrumental for this song is so dazzlingly beautiful; it sounds like a kaleidoscope dream, or better yet an amazing mushroom trip in the woods on a beautiful summer day. On ‘I Can See,’ it is almost like Mac views his approaching tragedy coming from around the corner; he and the person he is singing about can not stop this tragedy and they know it is imminent, but they seem to be trying to ignore this while looking for any and all positives. The main reason that so many people love this song already, though, is because of the sweet and angelic background vocals. Although neither Mac’s nor Ariana’s teams have commented on this and there is no one officially credited with background vocals on ‘I Can See,’ most fans of the album have figured out that it is Ariana Grande providing these vocals. As I said, there is no one actually credited with these background vocals and there is no way to really confirm that it is her, I implore you to listen to the song and decide for yourself; in my opinion, it does really sound like Ariana is singing on ‘I Can See.’ The next track, ‘Everybody,’ is a cover of the jazzy soul classic ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’ by the late and great Arthur Lee. Even though this is a cover, the lyrical themes of this song fit so perfectly with the rest of the album. Once again, it is as if Mac could see the future, as the theme of this song about living your life to the fullest, because the end of it all may be way closer than you think.

There are quite a few songs on this album that truly show how much Mac Miller was in love with Ariana Grande. ‘Woods’ is one of the songs where this feeling is the strongest; there are quite a few songs on Circles where one could probably guess that the lyrics are about Ariana, but I do not think the lyrics for ‘Woods’ can be up for debate, as this song is definitely about her. On ‘Woods,’ Mac is wondering why she can not just forget his past and be okay with who he is. Obviously, as Ariana has stated in the past, Mac Miller’s vices were too much to handle for both Mac and Ariana, and them being together ultimately was destroying her mental health(which is ironic because as she states in the album Sweetener Mac was the savior of her mental health for such a long time before he started to spiral). I love the trippy and funky synths used to create the melody of this song. ‘Woods’ sort of gives me a vibe of ELO or Steve Miller mixed with Frank Ocean. It is such an interesting and unique sound that I wish Mac could have explored more. ‘Hand Me Downs,’ which features Baro(the only cited feature on the project), totally switches up the vibe, bringing the instrumental into more of a folk-pop lane. The instrumental for this song reminds me a lot of something that Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz would have sung on back in the day. Mac’s drowsy and addicting flow work perfectly on this instrumental; once again, I wish he could have pursued this sound more because it is like his voice was made for this one. Lyrically, Mac seems to be trying to convince us and himself that he is okay on ‘Hand Me Downs.’ It is sort of a last-ditch effort by Mac to try to tell everyone around him not to worry about him. Unfortunately, as we all know now, these feelings were not 100% real and those around him were right to have been worrying about him. ‘That’s On Me’ not only follows a similar folk-pop style to the song that precedes it, but it also has a similar lyrical tone as well. This song is probably one of the more experimental songs that Mac Miller has ever put out; sonically, this track is the farthest from hip hop that I ever really heard from Mac Miller. It sort of sounds like a slow Mumford and Sons track; I could even see this song being compared to Bon Iver. As far as the lyrics go, ‘That’s on Me’ is definitely one of the most heart-wrenching songs of the record. Mac Miller is once again trying to assure everyone around him he is okay, even stating: I don’t know where I have been lately, but that’s alright. I said good morning this morning, and I will say good night. It really seems like Mac was at his most vulnerable point when he was making this song. Tracks like this are really tough to listen to right now because we all know that he was not okay and that he was pushing everyone away who wanted to help him. Once again, it is amazing how self-aware this record is.

And I bet you wish you hadn’t ate. ‘Cause carrying this weight’ll break your glass knees. Yeah, don’t need no chauffeur, fuck the backseat. No, I stay behind the wheel and never half-speed…

‘Hands’ almost feels like Mac Miller’s last-ditch effort to convince the world and convince himself that he is and will be okay. The instrumental is dreamy and psychedelic and sweet, and sort of reminds me of something that could have been on Mac Miller’s Macadelic project. This is so depressing and ironic to me because it is no secret that Mac was going through a rough time and faking like he was okay around the time that he made that album as well. I really enjoy the song ‘Hands’ because it reminds me a lot of some of the music of Mac’s that I love the most, but it also makes me sad because I feel like he was trying to recreate a sound and feeling that was not actually real or true to him anymore. The next track, ‘Surf,’ has become another crowd favorite. It is another moment where Mac sort of sounds like a modern R&B version of Jack Johnson. I think that people really like this one because he sounds so sincere in this song; you can tell that he is not bullshitting at all and that this is definitely how he feels. I feel like it would have been a really cool and rewarding experience to have been able to hear Mac play this song live since it is so intimate. Speaking of songs that would be really awesome to hear performed live, the final track, ‘Once a Day,’ is a total favorite of mine because it is so intimate; just imagine how amazing it would have been to be in a crowd where Mac is playing this one. It reminds me of those Instagram Lives Mac used to do where he would play covers and unreleased tracks of his own on the piano. ‘Once a Day’ is just so simple and sweet and nice to listen to; I can not describe it any other way. It is honestly a perfect way to end this awesome record.

I am not going to lie, I do not know when the next time will be that I will be able to listen to Mac Miller’s Circles as a whole like this. It was a pretty emotional experience for me to endure. There are so many great songs on this record, though, that I will not be able to avoid the album completely; I know that I will be listening to songs like ‘Complicated’ and ‘Hands’ and ‘Blue World’ quite a bit in the coming months. Circles is beautifully put together and so well thought out sonically and lyrically; Mac Miller’s self-awareness on this record is so real that it hurts to listen to at some points, and the way that these songs are composed and transition into each other is just beautiful. Although I am obviously still very sad that he is gone, I am very glad that we got to hear this final piece of music from Mac Miller. I hope you are resting easy now, Mac. Thank you for your art.

8.45/10

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