The tragic death of rapper and singer Mac Miller in 2018 had the music industry and much of the world at a loss for words. Mac Miller — whose full name is Malcolm McCormick — passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 26, leaving behind a grief-stricken mass of fans and a heartbroken cohort of collaborators. It seemed as though he was deprived of the chance to reap the benefits of his many years of hard work — he was just beginning to settle into his career and was in the midst of creating new music at the time of his death.
On Jan. 17, two days before what would have been the artist’s 28th birthday, Miller’s posthumous album “Circles” was released. Miller’s family announced the release of the album through a photo on his Instagram account. The post revealed the intentions that Mac had for a larger project in conjunction with his 2018 release “Swimming.”
“At the time of his passing, Malcolm was well into the process of recording his companion album to Swimming, entitled Circles,” the post read. “Two different styles complementing each other, completing a circle — Swimming in Circles was the concept.”
Releasing a posthumous album of an artist’s work is a difficult task to undertake, especially when much of it is unfinished. There are many boundaries and questions to consider, such as what the artist would have wanted and what message they wished to convey through their art. Producer Jon Brion, who worked on “Circles” with Miller before his passing, was up for the challenge. In an interview with The New York Times, Brion stated that he received a call from Miller’s family around three months after his death asking him to finish the album. Brion took what he and Miller had worked on so far, and the end result was a beautiful production honoring Miller’s life and legacy.
Miller has never been one to create songs that lack true depth and meaning — he sings and raps truthfully about his battles with depression and addiction. “Circles” is no exception, as his pain and struggles can be felt in the tone of his raspy, melodic voice. The album is a departure from the rap-driven sound of “Swimming” — as Miller intended it to be. The first track, “Circles,” is a great choice for the namesake of the album. The lyrics, paired with a soft guitar melody, express Miller’s recurring frustration with a lack of change in his life — “And I cannot be changed, I cannot be changed, no / Trust me, I’ve tried / I just end up right at the start of the line / Drawin’ circles.”
“Complicated” is one of the album’s more heavily produced tracks, dominated by an array of electronic beats creating a dreamy and almost psychedelic feeling. “Blue World,” featuring a Beach Boys-esque vocal intro that abruptly transforms into rap, is consistent with Miller’s typical rap sound. “Good News” was the first and only single released from the album, perhaps to announce the “good news” of the album’s release. It is one of the more innocent songs on the album, with a chorus exemplifying Miller’s struggle to find and maintain happiness when he sings, “Good news, good news, good news / That’s all they wanna hear / No, they don’t like it when I’m down.”
Fans searching for any hidden references to Miller’s personal life within his work speculate that vocals from ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande are featured on “I Can See.” Brion was asked if Grande’s vocals were included in the song.
“I believe there are,” Brion said. “Somebody just told me something about that, some kerfuffle. I mean, that was a pre-existing track.” Brion also revealed that some of the songs, including “I Can See,” were gifted to him by Miller’s family.
The track “Everybody,” which is initially slow at the beginning, picks up to be a feel-good tune about the universal truths of life — everybody lives and everybody dies. “Woods” is a shining gem within the album — the blend of singing and rap with melancholy instrumentals evokes the raw emotion that fans are so used to feeling when listening to his music. “Hand Me Downs” showcases Miller’s immense vocal prowess and the chorus includes a smooth-sounding appearance by Australian artist Baro Sura.
“That’s On Me” is another gem of the album that is undeniably catchy right from the beginning. “Hands” is not a standout in comparison with the rest, although it does bring back memories of Miller’s early rap style. “Surf” builds on itself beautifully as it progresses, with new instruments introduced one by one throughout the song. Last but not least, “Once A Day” is the most touching and somber track on the album.
Mac Miller’s ability to project his deepest emotions onto his listeners is what makes this album so noteworthy. “Circles” is a heavenly treat for those wanting to experience a new release from Miller just one more time. This album is one that Miller hopefully would have been very proud of, as he definitely should be.