Mac Miller’s posthumous album, Circles, was released on Jan. 17 by Warner Record at the wish of his family a year and one month after the rapper’s accidental drug overdose in 2018. Under the recommendation of a friend, I gave Circles a go, stepping into a musical world beyond what I had ever experienced.
Circles was created with the intention of balancing out Miller’s previous album Swimming as its companion album, continuing Miller’s critical look of his depression and hardships in a sound that is vastly different from Swimming. Opposed to Swimming’s driving beats and consistent funky profiles, Circles heads into more experimental arrangements that cover diverse genres like low-fidelity (lo-fi) and R&B. Although both albums are equally carefully crafted and draw in listeners, the difference is clear with Circles’ increased weight to the lyrics, as to Swimming’s less vivid lyrics.
Miller eases into the album with the title track “Circles,” relaying his thoughts through his raspy vocals and weighty lyrics. A rock-on-your-feet ambience saturates the song, conveying a feeling of being without direction where Miller wearily admits that “I cannot be changed, no / Trust me I’ve tried” as if he is caught in an inescapable circle of change and relapse. From this line, he references his attempts to come clean with his drug addiction, which were met with no success to his frustration and exhaustion. “Circles,” is also his subtle statement that he is unsure of where he is in the circle of sobriety and relapse, singing “Stumblin’ around you been guessing your direction / Next step you can’t see at all.” The languid guitar riffs in the background reinforce this feeling of aimless wandering. The dream-like tone offered by the vibraphones drift over a steady cymbal beat that brings a sense of calm, the type of calm for introspection.
His self-analysis is not limited to just “Circles”, and like Swimming, each song is connected through the lyrics that reference past songs. In “Complicated,” Miller says “Inside my head is getting pretty cluttered” and later in the album’s lead single, “Good News,” he says, “I spent the whole day in my head / Doing a little spring cleanin’”, creating a noticeable link that ties together an out-of-this-world experience, as each song now feels skillfully weaved into others like chapters to a story.
The narrative Miller tells feels like he is swimming in a circle steeped in his want to step away from drugs while combating his depression. Circles tells Miller’s story as an unintentional final goodbye to his fans. His music pulls up the blinds slightly on Miller’s mind, offering fans a way to make peace with his passing and a final glimpse of his genius.