In recent years, every posthumous album from a recently passed artist seems to be a cash grab by their label. The releases of posthumous albums from the labels of artists such as XXXTentacion and Lil Peep were unceremoniously cobbled together from leftover demos to make a profit from album downloads and streams from their grieving fanbases.
Given this standard, there was reason to be worried about the release of Mac Miller's Circles. Fans were distressed when word broke of an upcoming posthumous release: some feared that the album would be under-produced; simply a compilation of demos.
But then Miller’s family broke their silence on the project on January 8th, 2019, nine days before the release of the album. A heartfelt message was posted to Miller’s Instagram, revealing some interesting details regarding the release. One of the first was that Miller had been well into the completion of Circles at the time of his passing, meaning that although the songs that were meant to be on the album were not fully realized, all the groundwork, vocals, and concepts had been laid out for each song. Hearing that the album would be entirely Miller’s vision was a relief for fans. Secondly, Miller had been collaborating on the album with legendary producer, multi-instrumentalist, and The Bats frontman Jon Brion, who is well known for his collaborations with Kanye West and Fiona Apple. Following Miller’s passing, Brion took it upon himself to finalize the album based on the discussions and plans they'd had for the album, working hard to leave Miller’s vision intact.
As outlined in the post by Miller’s family, this album was meant to be a sequel to his 2018 release Swimming, which saw Miller taking a stab at lo-fi and jazzy hip hop with a heavy emphasis on R&B. Though the two albums are clearly connected the- matically, made evident by the fact that the album titles Swimming and Circles (“swimming in circles”) are meant to be a commentary on Miller’s mental state at the time of recording, one should not confuse Circles as a mere extension of Swimming. Circles is very much so its own album, and is, in fact, a more cohesive and well put-together album than Swimming.
Circles is an improvement on everything unlikeable about Swimming. Since the albums were initially meant to come out closer in time and complement each other, there are shared themes in the lyrics and production. Circles sees Miller experimenting with the sounds of synth-pop and neo-soul with most of the instrumentals on the record consisting of immaculate, cascading, and, at times, buzzing synths. Production from both Mill- er and Brion is pristine, and unlike on Swimming, Miller's som- ber and melancholy vocals are present in the mix, giving greater weight to what he has to say about where he was at mentally.
Production across the album heavily features synths with highlights in the tracklist such as “Circles,” “Good News,” and “Hand Me Downs” additionally featuring live instrumentation from Miller and Brion. The song “Circles” features these laid back and toned down electric guitar chords with occasional xylophone notes, adding texture to the production and aiding in the somber yet pristine production of the album. “Good News” was the only song taken from the tracklist that was released prior as a single: whether listening to it then as a single or now as a part of the tracklist, each time it has nearly brought me to tears. The song features gorgeous and uplifting plucking electric guitar notes that juxtapose the heartbreaking message about needing time to self-reflect and hoping that there is more “waiting on the other side” for Miller.
“Good News” and many other tracks on this album are surreal to listen to due to how heavily they deal with the topics of his passing and legacy, though that is not to say that Miller was miserable when making this album. Songs in the tracklist feature lyrics about “spring cleaning” and show a new Miller, one who was actually optimistic and looking forward to what the future had to hold.
For the reader out there who was never much of a Mac Miller fan during his lifetime thinking “this album is only getting praise because people are afraid to criticize those who have passed,” give Circles a chance. You will find the lyrics cathartic and the production immaculate. Of course, the album is also a must-listen for any fan looking for closure. It is an opportunity to hear Miller's voice and thoughts one final time.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Records