Mac Miller’s posthumous album Circles is a melodic trip into the most personal spaces of the deceased Pittsburgh legend’s psyche. Fans have grown accustomed to Mac’s progression towards balancing his rapping and singing voices, with the former typically being the substantial entreé and the latter being the delightfully surprising dessert. But on Circles, Mac is primarily doing his best laid back, modern day, American John Lennon impression (no disrespect intended to either of the Gods, two of my favorite artists ever) more so than he is spitting with the lyrical groovy vigor he mastered.
The weight of the album is immediately present on the title track, “Circles”, where Mac wholly displays the project’s overwhelming themes with a metaphor for his inability to change, along with a meditation on the remedial redundancy of life. Although this is a relatively depressing message, Mac finds speckles of light to hold onto in the dim tunnel.
The melancholic theme is then immediately lifted up by a lighthearted 1980s-type beat with “Complicated” where Mac is once again hatching out a complicated philosophy, but this time around the vibe is more like if Friedrich Niethammer was on ecstasy. The same bouncy ambience on the sporadic and indecisive “Blue World” is the bright canvas for the album’s first reintroduction to Mac’s notoriously comforting flow.
If anybody questions the progression of Mac Miller’s artistry, then show them any song of his prior to 2018, then play them “Everybody” which sounds far more like The Beatles than it does a fusion of Kid Cudi and Marshall Mathers. On an album that is filled to the brim with philosophic questions about one’s own head space, this track may be the one that features the most answers.
We don’t hear Mac’s traditional rapping register again until midway through the album on “Woods” where he recites two verses in his universally acclaimed spoken lyrical vibrato. This flow returns on the Baro Sura assisted track, “Hand Me Downs” and doesn’t resurface until a little later in the album.
It’s wonderful to hear the Mac that we all fell in love with, but the effectiveness of his rapping is even more devastating and beautiful because of how little it appears on the album. According to Hip-Hop By the Numbers, only 25.7% of Mac’s lyrics on Circles are rapped while the other 74.3% are sung.
The guitar melody that underlies “That’s On Me” feels more like it was subtracted from the Coen Brothers’s Inside Llewyn Davis then it was applied to an instrumental created for Mac Miller. It will never not be amazing to me to hear one of my favorite artists transcend from stoner anthems to borderline folk music tracks.
Christmas comes 11 months early with the beat to “Hands” which sounds like a little robot kid going down a slide in the wintertime, and is rescued by a fully committed to spitting version of Mac. It’s a healthy refresher on an album that is melancholic and introspective. I am no means by complaining about those themes being the concentration of the album. I’m actually very thankful that they are because that’s the side of Mac I can relate to the most with. He had this innate ability to communicate some of the most unspeakable things and inner thoughts in an effective and cathartic way.