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New Music: Mac Miller

By Matthew Herring, January 23 2020

It’s fair to say that no one expected the sudden passing of Mac Miller. 2018’s Swimming was a collection of songs that — while depressing and melancholic — emitted a sense of hopefulness and marked the first time where Miller’s vision was fully realized. Before Miller’s death, Circles was set to release as a companion album to Swimming mere months after the album released. Although never officially announced, rumours of Circles’ existence and eventual posthumous release floated around the internet for the past year. In early January of this year, Miller’s family announced the project, ensuring that it had not strayed from Miller’s original vision.

Posthumous releases will always fall under the lense of criticism. A moral question is raised surrounding whether or not the project should be released, and if it is, what moderations should be made to it and who should get the royalties from the album. With the recent passings of rappers XXXTENTACION and Lil Peep, their posthumous releases have been made by scouring through iPhone voice memos and tacking on wholly unnecessary Fall Out Boy features into incomplete songs. So when it was announced that there was a posthumous Mac Miller album coming out, people were rightfully worried about the quality and completion of the project.

Thankfully, Circles does it right. Every song is a complete product, and the project feel like the continuation of Swimming that Miller wanted. From the initial announcement posted on Miller’s social media accounts by Miller’s family, it was made clear that releasing the project was simply following his vision, and was something that had to be done tastefully and with respect. “This is a complicated process that has no right answer. No clear path,” the announcement post reads. The album is able to follow Miller’s vision so closely due to the work of Jon Brion, who played an integral role in the creation of Miller’s last two projects. Together, the two created a rough draft of Circles, which Brion polished to perfection, creating Miller’s most sonically diverse project.

Circles serves as an amalgamation of Miller’s career, combining elements from his previous projects while building on the more realized and mature sounds of Swimming. While the album is more subdued than his earlier projects, Circles trades high-intensity songs for mellow, laid-back tracks which allow Miller’s songwriting to truly shine. Songs are slower and spaced out, giving a greater emphasis on the instrumental like on the track “Surf” which features a two-minute guitar outro that’s spacier than anything Miller has done before. However, the album still has its fair share of exciting moments. “Blue World” features upbeat synth-like vocal samples, and “Hands” uses a beat akin to those of Tyler, the Creator while the backing percussion slowly becomes more involved as the song progresses.

Due to its subject matter and surrounding circumstances, Circles is often tough to listen to. However, behind the sadness of those circumstances, is an album that was meticulously crafted and released with the utmost respect to Miller’s legacy. Circles proves that Mac Miller is an artist that deserves your attention, and is not to be forgotten anytime soon.

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