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Mac Miller | Circles

The late rapper's posthumous release turns a new beginning into a fond farewell.



Circles is the sixth and final studio album by Mac Miller. Conceived as a sister album to 2018’s full-length Swimming, the album was completed with the assistance of Jon Brion, with whom Miller worked on Swimming and had been working together on Circles at the time of his passing. While sonically distinctly different than its predecessor, Circles features many of the hallmarks for which Swimming was critically-acclaimed upon its release — Miller further realizing his singing voice in addition to rapping, live instrumentation and earnest, confessional lyrical content. It’s a momentous final entry into the discography of an artist that remains at the center of reimagining the limits of rap.”


Posthumous albums are always a crapshoot. Especially when it comes to rappers. I won’t name any names because hell, you don’t need me to. If you have working eyes and ears, you’ve seen and heard the diminishing-return results time and again, in the form of an endless parade of quickie cash-in collections that promise a treasure trove of previously unreleased brilliance but  actually deliver a bunch of third-rate leftover verses  cut and pasted on top of new tracks and fleshed out with rhymes from anybody and everybody who was willing to cash a cheque. Having had to review way too many of those over the decades, I would like to believe there’s a special circle in hell reserved for the vultures behind them. To their credit, the folks behind Mac Miller’s Circles won’t be joining them. A fine, first-rate exception to the posthumous rap-album rule, this dozen-track set — which was apparently overseen by his family and estate, and arrives some 16 months after the 26-year-old rapper’s fatal but apparently accidental overdose — spends far more time moving forward than looking back. The press release says it was designed to serve as a continuation and complement to the more mature and confessional Swimming. Whether that’s true or not, there’s no denying that it respectfully documents the last chapter in the creatively restless performer’s continuing evolution from personable, above-average rapper to fully rounded musical artist. The lyrics to tellingly titled tracks like Complicated, That’s On Me and Blue World are introspective and unflinchingly honest while retaining a sense of optimism and existential joy. His vocals downplay his nimble rapping for a tenderly dusty, soulfully mellow croon. And collaborator / producer Jon Brion’s supple and subtle live-band backing track provide the perfect setting, matching Miller’s lyrical reality with musical authenticity while taking his sound to somewhere meaningful, fascinating and unique. Put them all together and you have an album that often sounds more like a new beginning than a fond farewell. Whether that brings closure to anyone is way beyond my pay grade. But it sure works for me.