Mac Miller’s posthumous album, “Circles,” offers a rare look into the emotions of a deeply depressed person earnestly trying to get better. It is a simultaneously weary and hopeful experience, and it is made all the more emotional knowing the voice behind these words is no longer with us.
Malcom McCormick’s (Mac Miller’s) passing in 2018 shocked many in the music industry. Artists and fans mourned the loss of an earnest creator who was always willing to help others out, whether it be through his music or through helping other artists to improve their own. At the time of his overdose, he was working on a companion to his 2018 album Swimming, which was finished by producer Jon Brion after his passing.
“Circles” is hard to listen to, and many lyrics point to the troubled mental state Miller was in at the time of its writing.
On the track “Complicated” he sings, “Some people say they want to live forever // That’s way too long, I’ll just get through today,” and on “Good News” he sings, “Why does everybody need me to stay,” and “I’m so tired of being so tired.” These lyrics bring new meaning after knowing how Miller’s story ends, but his album also holds beautiful moments of hope that things will get better, or that things will be better for him on the other side.
The production on the first half of the album is impeccable. The tracks “Circles” and “Good News” have a subdued sound that allow Miller’s crushing lyrics to reach the listener unobstructed, while tracks like “Complicated” and “Blue World” create a groovy, bouncy and slick soundscape that invites the listener to bob their head. The diversity of sounds throughout the album is impressive, and the lyrical content is thematically consistent.
It is remarkable that “Circles” isn’t a more depressing album considering its subject matter. The combination of Miller’s earnest desire to keep creating and the instrumentals that burst with life lead to some beautiful moments of music that leave listeners with a final act that is a celebration of Miller’s life and work rather than a funeral march.
The second half of the album contains strong moments, but ultimately fails to deliver the same musical or emotional weight as the first half of the album. It is impossible to know how much of the record was complete at the time of Miller’s overdose, but one can’t help wondering how the project would have changed had he been around to finish it himself. While tracks like “Everybody” and “That’s On Me” are emotional moments from the second half that stick out, too many of the tracks at the backend of the album are forgettable or even blend together.
“Circles” is an album that shows Miller departing on a high note. On the project, he delivers his highest quality jazz-hip hop fusion to date, while continuing to deliver on the strengths that earned him his fan base in the first place. The record oozes emotion, and Miller’s relentless creativity shines through on this work. This album delivers an emotional gut punch. Knowing that it is the last we will hear from Miller makes it that much more difficult to listen to, but I just can’t help going back to it.