Vinyl Review: 'Swimming in Circles' by Mac Miller

We all know who the most dope is. The man with the infinite smile. Easy Mac with the cheesy raps. Mac Miller cemented himself as one of the greatest and most creative artists of all-time. Moving from mixtapes like K.I.D.S. and his “frat rap” mixtapes, to albums with an incredible range like Watching Movies With the Sound Off and GO:OD AM proved his greatness solely due to the sheer growth he exemplified. The focal points of his music were his lifestyle, his mental state and his identity: “just a kid from Pittsburgh.” He was still growing so much in his artistry. His mixtapes Faces and Macadelic provided in-depth looks into his continuous battle with drug abuse. These two pieces were heavily influential as he progressed forward as an artist. His lyricism built off these two pieces continuously until his final work. In 2015 when GO:OD AM was released, Mac was rising high. His exploration had finally brought himself to a sound that represented himself. A timeless mix of soul, jazz, R&B, and hip hop. Mac Miller really emphasized and brought his vocals to life in his 2016 album, The Divine Feminine. All of this range, paired with the mental hardships that Miller so tragically endured, brought him to a new style of music heavily infused with soul undertones. Swimming and Circles are, debatably, the two deepest dives into the mental state of the artist,

These inner struggles mixed with addiction eventually led to Miller passing away on September 7, 2018, just one month after his beautiful, exploratory album Swimming was released. The complementary album, Circles, was posthumously produced and finished by a newfound friend and conspirator, Jon Brion. The soul and jazz-infused album did not disappoint; it truly was the perfect cap to a legendary career.

On October 6, 2020, Mac Miller’s estate announced that they would be releasing a 4 LP box set of the final two works that capped an illustrious discography. My jaw immediately hit the floor when I saw the announcement. After a few months of contemplation, I overlooked the $90 price tag and obtained the records.

After its arrival on December 23, I was immediately enveloped by the pure, clean, beyond-aesthetically pleasing sleeve. Zero writing is depicted on the front sleeve. Instead, they chose to utilize cutouts in order to portray the script and a picture of Miller from the front page of the photobook inside (which I will touch more on later). The back, in contrast, illustrates the song lists for each of the eight sides. Each side is scripted to form a perfect circle, while the center has a cutout exactly like that of the front. Inside, instead of picturing Miller’s face, the back depicts: “Swimming In Circles By Mac Miller.”

The simplicity of the outside merely masks the beautiful inner workings that greet you upon opening up the set. While pulling out everything, you will initially come upon a 24” x 36” poster of Mac standing in Hawaii amidst his writing of popular songs like “Hurt Feelings” and “Wings.” Next, you will find a book of archived photos taken throughout the curation of the complementing albums. Lastly, aside from the LPs, a sixfold lyric sheet sits at the end of the sleeve.

Moving to the most eccentrically beautiful part of the set: the vinyl and their sleeves. Each singular sleeve contains the same straight-forward, simplistic font with the script “Swimming In Circles.” Depending on the record, either Swimming or Circles are underlined within the phrase. Each Swimming record is covered in a light blue sleeve, while the vinyl is a deep, dark blue. The inner ring also perfectly matches the outer sleeve color. The records for Circles are the same, just switched around—meaning light blue records covered in a dark blue sleeve. Each and every piece of the set is made so impeccably well. The amount of care and effort put into this set is unbelievable. It literally weighs 3.26 pounds; that directly translates to pure quality.

The records themselves produce some of the most melodically and lyrically-pleasing sounds I have ever heard. Swimming was a Grammy-nominated record, and Circles was a surprising miss from the nominations this year. I will link an incredibly well-done article on the album here from one of our senior writers, Ralph James.

Swimming will ultimately bring you to the peak of Mac Miller’s complex artistry. His depth and incredible vocals shine bright in songs like “Come Back To Earth” and “Perfecto,” while his classic lyrical mastery especially shines through in tracks like “Dunno” and “2009.” Mac Miller’s use of smooth and jazzy synths bring you into a relaxed and laidback headspace whilst also reminiscing on times of love and drugs. This record truly epitomizes Mac’s career and quite easily places him as an all-time great in the industry. Mac Miller’s final exploration did not disappoint.

This box set, regardless of the music inside, warrants a 10/10—everything from the durability and quality of the components to the physically and aesthetically pleasing aspects of the vinyl. This entire set is beyond perfect, in my eyes, and completely worth the $90 price tag. The music that accompanies the set will send you into a frenzy of emotions, but at least you will be able to bask in the beauty of the set while enduring them. As Mac Miller always said, “Make sure to smile back.” Thank you.