By Claire McFadden
Mac Miller’s sixth and final studio album, “Circles,” has descended from the heavens as a drifting cloud that leaves wisps of his heart and soul in its timeless wake. Its release comes as a surprise to his grieving fans — Miller died from an accidental overdose in September of 2018.
Producer Jon Brion completed the album “Circles” after working closely with Miller before he died. The album was promoted quietly before it was featured in a Jan. 17 Instagram post on Miller’s account by his family members. The post explained Miller’s vision of “Circles” as a “companion” to his last album “Swimming” (2018), combining the motifs of “completing a circle” and “swimming in circles.”
His lyrics provide an honest lens that vividly captures the way he perceived the world, and every melody echoes the reality of the emotional struggle Miller knew others could relate to. As Miller fights to make peace with himself, he urges us to do the same. In the tenth track, “Hands,” he raps “I stay behind the wheel and never half speed,” which is reminiscent of the DUI charge he received in May 2018. In the song’s chorus, he speaks to the importance of learning and letting go of past mistakes, because “carrying this weight will break your glass knees.”
The album’s single, “Good News”, provides a gentle reminder that “If it ain’t that bad, it could always be worse.” Miller’s soothing voice is backed by pizzicato strings that sound like flowers springing up from the ground after a long winter’s frost.
“Circles” is an album that is focused on one purpose yet varied in its style of expression. Miller’s choice of muted guitar and somberly-hushed vocals in the opening track, “Circles,” contrasts the electronic groove of the following track, “Complicated.” A barbershop quartet harmonizes in “Blue World” while a synthesizer floats through “Woods.”
In “Everybody,” Miller cries for us all to enjoy life in defiance of the fact that “everybody’s gonna die.” Later, Miller leads us to a calmer approach to find peace in our lives by riding the wave rather than fighting against it in “Surf.” The former track’s sharply-energetic bite opposes the latter’s chill vibe.
Miller’s unquenchable thirst for creativity is evident in the risks he took to make his craft stand out. Experimental efforts in the studio take time to analyze, and often require fine-tuning. The tenth track, “Hands,” is backed by a distorted voice muttering along with the percussion that distracts the listener from Miller’s rap. We are left to imagine the polished version of “Circles” that Miller would have produced if he had more time.
“Circles” is an unfiltered whirlpool of Miller’s conscience and subconscious in which he meanders and muses his way through twelve tracks that climb mighty mountains of regret and stumble upon clear skies of enlightenment. His message, albeit delivered through a mesmerizing mix of floating piano chords, funky electronic beats, and widely ranged vocals, is clear.
Miller reminds us that finding yourself caught in the spiral of life is inevitable, but it’s the decision to choose acceptance and forgiveness that gives you the strength to escape the current and complete your circle.