Mac Miller Masterfully Checks In From The Other Side with “Circles”
By: Alex Marcheschi
“Swimming” was one of the most unique albums ever made, it was an extremely introspective and existentially inquisitive collection of songs that only had about a month to live while their father was still around. To let the lyrics from “Swimming” breathe into the frightening abyss of death forever was a lot for Mac Miller fans to take in.
That is, until a few weeks ago when Mac’s family announced that a posthumous album to compliment “Swimming” entitled “Circles” would drop today. One can’t help but feel like you’re listening to a voice from Heaven when listening to the new Mac album, it offers some closure to the artist’s wonderful career. The lyrics hint at death approaching, specifically at the callous and finite side of life. Swimming in Circles was one hell of an idea, and the albums coming out in a way that essentially sandwiched the rapper’s death is unprecedentedly spooky.
“Circles” is seemingly riddled with warnings that Mac recorded for himself. His death was not a suicide, it was the result of ingesting counterfeit Oxycodone laced with fentanyl, but any time you’re taking pills without a prescription, you have to know that dying is a potential outcome of the experience. Mac was clearly in a period of existential confusion and intense fatigue when he passed, and it was sad to lose a legend in what seemed like the peak of his career.
But, with Circles, we have been gifted a manifesto from the clouds. It’s a masterpiece that was completed after Mac passed by legendary producer Jon Brion. You can’t help but wonder what other touches Mac may have added to this album if he were alive, but doing that feels like wondering how van Gogh would edit “The Starry Night” if he had to account for light pollution.
The album starts with a track entitled “Circles” that begins with the lyrics “well, this is what it looks like, right before you fall,” and it feels as if it was recorded right before Mac actually died. It’s jarring, but comforting at the same time, like waking up from one of those dreams where you fall off a cliff. “Circles” sets the mood for the entire album, which has a recurring theme of taking it one day at a time.
The next song on the album, “Complicated“, feels like the one song on the album that could make it to the “mainstream” or radio. It’s a vibe-y plea to the universe to make it through the day without any complications, the most memorable line being – “before I start to think about the future, first can I please get through the day?”
Up next is “Blue World“, a song with a beat that sounds like it should be in a new age Apple product commercial. It’s a great song about how “it’s a blue world without you,” which of course sounds like Mac talking to himself.
“Good News” is the next song on the album, and it was released last week with an amazing accompanying music video:
It’s a song about an interesting concept: how people don’t like to hear about when you’re doing poorly, but they love to hear about when you’re doing well. It has a Four Noble Truths of Buddhism type of vibe to it. The First Truth is that suffering, pain, and misery exist in life. The Second Truth is that this suffering is caused by selfish craving and personal desire. The Third Truth is that this selfish craving can be overcome. The Fourth Truth is that the way to overcome this misery is through the Eightfold Path. This reminds me of Mac’s line from “So It Goes” off of “Swimming”, when he compared narcissism to narcotics:
Ok, well, you could have the world in the palm of your hands
You still might drop it
And everybody wanna reach inside your pockets, so it goes
It’s like, in every conversation, we the topic
This narcissism, more like narcotics, so it goes
You get the sense that Mac abhorred talking about “how he was doing.”
Next up is “I Can See“, which has a refrain that will likely go down in history as a famous quote that gets plastered all over Pinterest: “If life is but a dream, then so are we.” This song gives you the sense that Mac struggled with a concept that many people who dabble with intense drugs struggle with: what’s real and what’s not?
In “Everybody“, Mac reflects on how everybody lives and everybody dies, saying “everybody’s gonna try to have a good, good time, I think you know the reason why.”
At this point in the album, you get the sense that Mac was fixated on the idea of death, or as the famous saying goes, “flirting with death.” If you’ve ever been stuck in a period of existential dread or fear of death, you know that it’s always lingering. It can hit while you’re waiting for spaghetti to become al dente, in the middle of a work shift or right before you’re about to close your eyes to sleep. I’ve never heard an artist encapsulate the feeling of existential dread in a more relatable, and eerily enjoyable way, the way Mac did. His deepest fear was at the crux of his latest work.
The next song, “Woods“, would truly blow a 2011 Mac Miller fan’s mind. It has a glitter-infused maple syrup feel to it, leaving you sticky but illuminated by the end of it. Throughout his latest works, Mac raps in cadences that are clearly shout outs to classic hip hop icons, they’re the type of cadences you can’t put your finger on right away, but know you’ve heard before. In “Woods”, Mac slips into Rich Boy’s flow from the 2006 hit “Throw Some D’s”, even beginning a verse with “I never slip, I never fall” exactly like Rich Boy did.
“Woods” is a great song, one that no one else on earth could have made.
“Hand Me Downs” has the best wordplay on the album, with Baro Sura featured on the song singing:
Shit, I need to stay in line
You damn well are a great design
You, despite being an only child
Say you need more of a family ’round
Let’s turn these jeans (genes) into hand me downs
Down, down, down, down, down
Down, down, down, down, down
It also has my favorite line on the album, when Mac raps: “half the time the wheels that’s in the back of my mind just keep on turning ’til the tires flat and burn until the fire crack.” Amazing song.
“That’s On Me” is my least favorite song on the album, but that doesn’t even mean it’s a bad song. It’s a song about taking accountability, specifically for being “too proud.” It’s very melodic and relaxing. “Hands” is the song Mac chose to rhyme on like his “old self” the most, we hear this when he says, “Call me what you want, she call me “daddy”, got a knack for gettin’ nasty, every day we keepin’ tally, yeah”, but even in this song he delves into his anxiety, rapping “I’m busy trippin’ bout some shit that ain’t even happen yet.”
“Surf” has my favorite chorus on the album:
I know we try
And the days, they go by
Until we get old
There’s water in the flowers, let’s grow
People, they lie
But hey, so do I
Until it gets old
There’s water in the flowers, let’s grow
That’s just poetic, and the song has these static-y guitar riffs that make it hit home perfectly.
“Once A Day” was played at his celebration of life in November, 2018, but this is the first time hearing it for many listeners. It has a lullaby-esque quality to it. Mac wonders if others experience life the same way he does, singing: “I wonder what they know, I wonder if they ever even cared at all, I wonder do they see their own reflection in the mirror and look away?” He goes back to a common question in his recent music: why do we all rush so much? And he drops a few lines that are legitimately mind blowing, like: “Don’t keep it all in your head, the only place that you know nobody can ever see” and “everybody needs something when they’re stuck on your mind.”
“Once A Day” is a very mellow and soothing way to end his last album ever. His line, “I just keep waiting for another open door to come up soon” feels like a plea for another plane of existence. I say this in the least disrespectful way possible, I really do hope Mac found that open door he was seeking in death. I imagine him floating through space completely at ease like the little old school scuba diver character in the “Good News” music video. He was certainly tapped into a level of creativity and philosophy that is essentially unheard of for a 26-year-old person. The wisdom he shares sounds like that of an embattled monk, and his sound is incomparable. Godspeed to Mac Miller, thank you for your contributions to humanity.