“Well, this is what it looks like right before you fall” are the first words seeped out of Mac Miller’s mouth on the opening track of his sixth studio album “Circles,” as it perfectly sets the theme for the rest of the album.
“Circles” comes as an enlightenment to Miller’s fifth studio album “Swimming,” where he reveals his struggles with drug use and accepting the chaos residing in his head while trying to understand it through an optimistic lens. Nearly a month after the release of “Swimming,” Miller passed away from a mixed-drug overdose where he fell prey to the demons he’s been fighting for so long. Miller’s death became a painful story to hear, as the artist had been looking forward to healing his wounds.
“And I was just drowning, but now I’m swimming through stressful waters to relief,” sings Miller on the song “Come Back to Earth.” This song off the album “Swimming” shows his attempt to regain control of his life and find peace, a theme further explored in “Circles.” Together, the two album artworks create the concept of “swimming in circles.” Although Miller is swimming to stay afloat, it is pointless if he keeps going in circles and will have an inevitable downfall if he is unable to make it to land.
Funk singer and bass player Thundercat, who toured with Miller in 2018, reported to the Rolling Stone: “By all accounts, he was in his best mental and physical condition in years when he died.” The two shared a close friendship right before his passing.
This notion seems to shine through in the song “Good News” when Miller says, “I’ll finally discover / That there’s a whole lot more for me waiting / That there’s a whole lot more for me waiting.” It alludes to the idea that Miller finally realized that there is a life for him to look forward to beyond his anxieties and cluttered mind, which adds another dagger to the heart for those aware of his story. But the most heartbreaking lyrics to hear from “Circles” lie in the same song when he says the simple phrase, “Why does everybody need me to stay?”
Miller has come a long way since his “Blue Slide Park” days, and his years of growth as a musician shine through in “Circles.” This album beautifully wraps up his discography with a focused, vulnerable project serving as a reminder that although he may be gone, he remains within our hearts.
“Circles” holistically and successfully delivers full-fleshed emotion and provides insight into Miller’s final thoughts before his passing through warm funk and psychedelic beats resembling a euphoric high. “Blue World” is one of the few tracks that blend airy instrumentals with traditional rap, contrasting the approach Miller took throughout “Swimming” and the rest of “Circles.” That’s not to say that his choice to trade rapping for singing was a bad choice, but rather the complete opposite; Miller is confident in his singing, and it only adds to the serenity that “Circles” seems to portray so well. The opening track, titled “Circles,” evokes a sense of genuine saudade in listeners thanks to the soft guitar strums and gentle cymbals. If one listens to the song alone in a pensive state, it is extremely difficult to hold back any tears and reminisce the feeling of comfort that is the safety granted by that one special thing or person in our lives.
The album then wraps with the song “Once A Day,” another tear jerker that feels like someone has wrapped their arms around the listener in a warm hug, reminding them that everything will end okay.
The smooth style of Miller’s sixth and final album is thanks to Jon Brion, a producer who worked closely with Miller on his previous albums. Brion was able to perfectly capture the vision Miller wanted to deliver. Overall, “Circles” is a well-crafted album that does justice to the picture Miller was trying to paint for his audience before his tragic death.
By: Angela Silva