Swimming in “Circles” – Album Review


photo courtesy of nieuweplaat.nl

Posthumous releases are often hit or miss both quality wise and ethically. It’s rare that music released after an artist’s death can be seen as a worthy continuation of their original artistic vision. Regardless, it’s safe to say I was cautious in my excitement at the announcement of a posthumous Mac Miller record. The rapper had died nearly a year and a half before this announcement due to overdose, and there hadn’t been a peep about new music until 2 weeks before the album dropped.

The announcement coincided with the release of the first single on the album, Circles, entitled “Good News.” The song features Miller going even further into singer-songwriter territory than on his last project, the neo-soul tinged Swimming, using a mixture of soft-spoken singing and conversation like delivery over muted, plucked guitar strings and dreamy, synthetic chord progressions that paint a melancholy picture of Miller’s mindset prior to his passing. All in all, the single promised a much more intimate and melodic album than previously released.

This low-tempo and somber mood set by the single is only pushed further by the opening track “Circles.” Miller further exposes his sobering mindset during the recording process by singing over a subtle baseline accompanied by ethereal synthetic string flourishes. The themes of this song transfer suddenly into a much more glitzy expression on the next song “Complicated.” The bare, and almost minimalistic, production on the album compliments Miller’s falsetto and understated vocals. In comparison to Miller’s last album, which featured a lot more vocal flourishes and high-tempo instrumental, the raw and intimate expressions on Circles provides a much more potent experience. 

The next highlight of the album comes in the three track run of the songs “I Can See/Everybody/Woods.” Miller, now in full singing mode, uses these songs to express his feelings and ideas on a failing relationship. “I Can See” features powerful, synth arpeggios to structure the production before transitioning to a much more astral, spacious instrumental that compliments the introspective lyrics of Miller. “Everybody” is a faithful piano ballad cover of Arthur Lee’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live”  that uses the blues inspired instrumentation and vocals to further push the sobering, accepting vibe of mortality on the album. Then on the track “Woods” Miller combines dreamy instrumentals and gloomy lyrics to express his feelings on a faltering relationship that he doesn’t want to leave. The solid performance and incredible production makes this one of the songs off the album. 

The record is not without its faults however. The last handful of tracks on the album leave a decent amount to be desired and leave the album with a much better opener than closer. The songs “Surf” and “Once A Day” are fairly one dimensional with minimalistic production going a little too far and leaving the songs feeling barren and incomplete. “That’s On Me” is another quality downfall on the album that features droning, tired singing over a fairly generic, swinging guitar loop. 

All in all, the quality of this album leaves a bittersweet taste after completion, knowing Miller won’t be able to pursue this sound further, but it’s very unlikely to find such a faithful, and beautiful posthumous release. ⅘ stars