‘Circles’ is a reminder of what Mac Miller had left to give

The posthumous release is a bitter farewell to an artist who was eager to explore diverse musical avenues


Christian Weber/Mac Miller Photography

Mac Miller’s album, ‘Circles,’ received a 7.4 out of 10 rating from Pitchfork.

Phil Akre, Staff Writer

Mac Miller never had the chance to finish “Circles,” the companion album to 2018’s “Swimming.” His death in September 2018 marked the swift and sudden end to a career that was embracing new directions, something more than rap. Fans were left to grieve Miller’s passing without getting the chance to ever really say goodbye. That’s where “Circles” comes in. The 12-track album is the result of producer Jon Brion’s tireless work, who was left to put the remaining pieces of Miller’s musical puzzle together one last time. In doing so, he may have given the hip-hop and rap scene the closure it so desperately sought.

More importantly, Brion has given fans a glimpse into where Miller was headed both as an artist and as a person. It’s hard to view “Circles” as anything but a fitting, bitter farewell to the artist who was so eagerly exploring new sounds. “Circles” is a triumph, a grand presentation of an artist who was conflicted, yet clearly aware of his ability to produce full-fledged artistic efforts.

On posthumous releases, it’s often difficult to decipher how much of the final product is the direct result of the artist’s input or producer touch-ups. After giving “Circles” a listen, it’s apparent that the distinction was never really important. What’s clear is that Brion knew Miller had a vision. His job was to realize its potential, to interpret the lyrics left behind and the music left unfinished. That’s why “Circles” holds 12 full-length songs, nearly all of them distinct in their own ways. We hear influences from styles far and wide, ranging from soul, R&B and soft pop.

“Circles” is  Miller at a creative peak, a 12-song palette blossoming with creativity, a proclamation that his career was evolving. The mood is reflective, the tone somber. Lyrically, Miller paints a portrait of a man who is still calling for help, promising he’ll make it to the other side unscathed. Despite the melancholy elements, it’s clear that this was the music Miller was bound to create.

While mixtapes such as 2012’s “Macadelic” and 2014’s “Faces” highlighted Miller’s lyrical ability over hip-hop beats, “Circles” represents his transformation as an artist, highlighting his willingness to experiment. “Swimming” contained a handful of terrific efforts, but “Circles” is a more complete product. At its core, it isn’t really a rap record, either.

The album’s title track is a somber reminder of the demons that he so frequently confronted. His problems revolve in circles, a pattern he is unable to break out of over the low-key instrumental track, featuring keys, bass and chimes. Thankfully, he simplifies things on the following track, “Complicated,” an upbeat, playful tune that asks, “does it always gotta be so complicated?”

One of the album’s shining moments comes through  its fifth track, “I Can See.” Miller soars over the euphoric, spacy sound that utilizes keys, synth and background vocals (which the internet has rumored are Ariana Grande’s). In it, Miller sees the depths of his problems from an outside perspective, in the pursuit of ultimate clarity. Other key tracks include “Woods,” “That’s on Me” and “Everybody.” The album’s pure range painfully reminds that Miller won’t just be remembered as a gifted lyricist but an artist who was hungry for collaboration and exploration.

“Circles” is already timeless, considering it’s the last thing Miller gave to the world. It’s not too early to think it will likely be held as one of his defining works. It’s offered an optimistic farewell, a vital glimpse into the world that Miller was just beginning to fully absorb. He just never got the chance to do it. When we look back on this release, we’ll remember the artist who beamed happiness over the dark cloud that followed him. This is  Miller at his musical best, matured and soulful. “Circles” is Miller in tranquility as he says goodbye.

5/5 stars