This isn’t an album review. Personally, it feels wrong to review a posthumous album, given that its release is more so a tribute to that person’s life and passion for music than an artistic statement searching for critique. Instead, I just want to give some of my thoughts on how touching and sincere I find “Circles” to be, and how it’s such a promising artistic step for someone who will unfortunately never get the chance to explore further into the creative depths of his gifted mind.
“Circles” is Mac Miller’s sixth studio album and the first to be released following his death. Malcolm McCormick died on September 7, 2018, of an accidental drug overdose in his Studio City home. While he had completed the majority of “Circles” before his death, his family explained that producer Jon Brion, who Miller had worked closely with during the recording of the album, would apply the finishing touches.
“Circles” is soft and cleansing, with a gentle pulse and an easygoing heart. It drifts from thought to thought, as Miller takes his final step of artistic evolution into that of an emotive, tender singer. If you were a fan of Miller’s previous work, it’s impossible not to emphasize with the breezy contemplations and soft production of “Circles.” What’s most beautiful is how far he had come – as both an artist and a human being – and how the whole world got to watch that maturation occur in real-time. From the “frat-rap” lighthearted jaunts of his early records (“Blue Slide Park,” “K.I.D.S.”), to the psychedelic, insular and intricate raps of his time living in Los Angeles (“Watching Movies With the Sound Off,” “Faces,”), to the piano-laden soulful harmonizing of his later years (“The Divine Feminine,” “Swimming”), we got to watch Mac morph into a variety of different versions of himself and try on a number of musical hats. And “Circles” finds Miller down yet another creative rabbit hole, singing more than ever over the most tranquil instrumentation of his career.
“Circles” is the eloquent musings of an artist, and a human, breaching maturity and a new stage of adulthood. Miller is able to communicate this both lyrically and sonically, as he meanders through many knotted emotions with a focused and peaceful clarity. There’s the heart-ripping confessions of “Good News,” where he gracefully plucks each encroaching anxiety from his mind and lays them bare with a harmonized whisper over a gentle guitar melody. Then there’s the existential rattle of “I Can See,” where the late artist presents a polished, ripened version of the complex philosophizing that littered 2013’s “Watching Movies With the Sound Off.” Overall, “Circles” is somehow both simple and complex, giving us an honest look at a man who spent all of his adult life embroiled within celebrity and its ensuing anxieties.
But this isn’t to say “Circles” is sad; rather, it’s emotionally tender, with moments of introspection, concern and affirmation, often all within the same song. “Surf” finds Mac repeating over the hook, “I know we try / And the days, they go by / Until we get old / There’s water in the flowers, let’s grow.” Elsewhere, “Blue World” presents the fastest and most upbeat song on the entire album, with loose rapping over a chopped-up sample about refusing to let the devil in despite his presence just outside the door.
“Circles” is the touching celebration of Malcolm McCormick to be embraced by his friends, family and the many, many fans he touched throughout his musical career. I’ve held his music very close to my heart since the day I bought the CD of “Watching Movies With the Sound Off” my sophomore year of high school and became entranced by his down-to-earth relatability and wide-ranging musical talent. “Circles” offers one last send-off to the ever-evolving artist beloved by so many for his easygoing nature and kind heart. You will be missed dearly, Mac.