BY JOSEPH STURGEON III
Released posthumously on January 17, rapper Mac Miller’s sixth studio album “Circles” is equivalent to a one-way road trip. Albeit only 48 minutes long, the trip seems to last for a lifetime, visiting hopelessness and heartbreak, but also hopefulness and recovery.
The album opens with title-track “Circles,” a song that begins with a soft, innocent guitar. The guitar plays for around 12 measures, accompanied by a quiet cymbal, until it’s joined by Miller’s vocals. His voice is sorrowful- as if Miller is aware of all of his shortcomings but has grown past them, not becoming someone new, but instead embracing and accepting himself. The innocent sound of the track is complemented by Miller’s words, as he makes references to the harmless act of “drawing circles” throughout, though the tone of his voice implies something deeper.
The playful vibe of the following track’s instrumental on “Complicated” would make you forget all about this deeper meaning, but you are reminded of it once Miller arrives with his heavy-hearted, sorrowful tone. Every word that leaves Miller’s lips is somber, and before long, listeners begin to empathize with him as he recites lines like “Before I start to think about the future / First, can I please get through a day?”
Like Miller’s previous album “Swimming,” “Circles” doesn’t contain a lot of the rapping that earned him popularity at the start of his career. Instead, the album is sing-songy and gentle, as if it was composed by a father for his newborn child. This style works well for the album, and while Miller wasn’t necessarily the most gifted vocalist, his unique voice and emotion-filled tone more than make up for his less-than-impressive singing voice.
Overall, the album carries a sorrowful tone, no matter whether the instrumentals that back Miller’s lyrics are sorrowful or not. This is apparent in songs like “Blue World,” where the instrumental and Miller seem to contradict each other, the instrumental expressing happiness and Miller expressing sadness.
“Good News,” one of the album’s standouts, carries this same contradictory air. The backing is bubbly and reminds one of childhood, but Miller delivers a reflective and depressing tone. Some of the refrains, while simplistic, are emotional haymakers, with Miller repeating phrases such as “Can I get a break?” and “I spent the whole day in my head.” Still, the song is hopeful, as on the same track, Miller recites “There’s a whole lot more for me waiting,” and “I’ll finally discover that it ain’t that bad / Ain’t so bad.”
The album isn’t absent of songs that remind of love, either. The seventh track, “Woods,” is a tale of a romance dwindling into nothing, but at the same time, could be seen as a track chronicling the start of a new relationship. Either way it’s perceived, Miller doesn’t hold his feelings back, singing lines like “I’ll make this planet feel like home / Miss us, first time the door is closing,” and “Hate love, heartbreak will have you bankrupt.”
“Circles” lacks the braggadocio that a Mac Miller fan might have heard on his earlier albums. Instead, this album is honest, containing no fronts. It’s an honest and heartfelt presentation of who the man behind the Mac Miller alias really was.
“Circles” is poetic. Miller writes from a reflective standpoint, with lyrics so heavy that one could only conclude that the album was the result of intense introspection. Miller was no stranger to love and, as he reiterated several times on this album, no stranger to heartbreak either.
The autobiographical album that is “Circles” is where Miller allowed himself to be completely vulnerable, and is stringed together so perfectly, one can easily forget that it wasn’t quite yet finished.
Photo courtesy of Pitchfork
Originally published at http://www.thelariatonline.com on January 28, 2020.