Mac Miller performing at Splash! Festival in 2012. Photo credit: Nicolas Völcker
There is a sense of poetic closure to this album. It is far from an easy listen, a beautiful, tragic monument to the talented young rapper whose life was cut short. Initially intended as a companion album to 2018’s Swimming, Circles, released posthumously, is a genre-spanning, expertly crafted album that feels a fitting tribute to Mac Miller.
Circles balances introspective, tender moments, such as the title track, ‘Circles’, and lead single ‘Good News’ with more upbeat cuts such as the infectiously groovy ‘Blue World’. Mac even turns his hand to Jack Johnson-esque surf pop on ‘Surf’, to great effect. Even with the diversity of the track listing, the project feels cohesive and complete- held together by the strength of the lyric writing, polished production, and Mac’s inimitable flow.
“The album exudes a hopeful, quietly positive energy that things will be better soon- which is what stings the most.”
The album has a different tone to previous projects, notably Swimming, which Circles was intended to contrast and complement. Swimming is a more overtly r&b and funk influenced project (heard in tracks such as ‘Self Care’ and ‘What’s the Use?’). The album presents a more playful side to Mac than is seen on Circles, which favours singing over rapping, alongside a greater focus on live instrumentation, with soft piano accompaniments and live drums. However, despite their differences, both albums exude the same hopeful, quietly positive energy that things will be better soon- which is what stings the most.
Listening to Circles is darkened by the simple and inescapable fact that this will be the last Mac Miller album. Lines such as ‘Everybody’s gotta live, and everybody’s gonna die’, which he sings on middle track ‘Everybody’, take on a painful new meaning. The album is a huge credit to musician and producer Jon Brion, who helped finish the album, as well as to Mac’s family, left with the unenviable task of deciding how exactly Circles would be released to the world. In a statement on Instagram, his family said: ‘We are left to imagine where Malcolm was going and to appreciate where he was’.
Looking at the YouTube comments on ‘Good News’, to see the number of people whose lives Mac Miller personally affected is astonishing. As one user wrote, ‘It’s a weird feeling to miss someone you never even met’. It has now been over a year since he passed, and, listening to the album, writing this review on what would have been his 28th birthday, it feels surreal that he is no longer here.