The 2018 death of beloved American rapper and singer Mac Miller was a tragic moment in recent music history. Countless fans mourned the young musician’s untimely end with deep reverence. During his lifetime, Miller was a vibrant and creative individual. Thankfully, through the efforts of producer Jon Brion and Miller’s family, his last songs were released on Jan. 17. Brion, a longtime friend of Miller’s, was able to piece together recordings Miller had made to produce Circles. The project, meant to be part of a trilogy including his 2018 record Swimming, picked up where Miller’s previous album left off.
The titular track of the record is a mellow, reflective song about the flow of time. Minimal acoustic guitar and light synth effects introduce Miller’s raw, distinctive voice. The lyrics are philosophical and introspective; on “Circles,” Miller thoughtfully muses, “Well, this is what it look like right before you fall,” indicating that he has entered a period of life from which there may be no return. The song seems to move perpetually in slow motion, like the “hands that keep countin’ the time” that he notes in his lyrics.
“Good News” is another subtle yet rich song. The natural tones of Brion’s acoustic guitar complement Miller’s organically rough vocals with ease. The tone of the song is brutally honest, but it holds resilient optimism. Miller straightforwardly discusses his mental health, admitting in the lyrics, “I wish that I could just get out my goddamn way.” These words reflect how a person can get tangled in their own thoughts, and in the process, get lost in the darkness and confusion of their own mind. Miller pairs this theme with notes on how the expectations of other people drag him down further. He sings, “Good news, good news, good news/ That’s all they wanna hear/ No, they don’t like it when I’m down.” In this chorus, Miller criticizes how society is often quick to brush off mental health struggles and prefers to hear about the idealistic side of his life rather than know the truth.
“I Can See” exudes cosmic, futuristic vibes. The steady snare and soaring synth are reminiscent of a late ’90s video game soundtrack, while the harmonious, bell-like melody lends a dreamy, otherworldly atmosphere to the soundscape. The lyrics themselves reflect the etherealness of the song, with the chorus crooning, “And now I know if life is but a dream then so are we.” The light vocals that float above Miller’s voice are actually those of Miller’s former girlfriend, Ariana Grande, and were part of the original recording that Miller made.
Although “Everybody” is a cover of Arthur Lee’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live,” Miller’s rendition is beautifully unique. There seems to be an element of forewarning as Miller sings, “Everybody’s gotta live/ And everybody’s gonna die.” His unadulterated voice shines through with immense wisdom, and Brion’s understated use of guitar, piano and drums only adds more depth to the song.
“Woods” is a funky song with electronic inflections, featuring Miller’s conversational rap style. The lyrics illustrate Miller’s feelings on love and heartbreak — he seems to contemplate his ability to love, asking, “Do I, do I, do I love?/ Can I, can I, can I get enough?” Miller infuses his wisdom in the verse, singing, “Hate love, heartbreak will have you bankrupt/ Too many days in a daze, better wake up.” These lyrics suggest that although love can be emotionally absorbing, a person must always keep their head up and be mindful of reality.
Although Mac Miller could not complete the trilogy of albums he set out to produce, his legacy and spirit live on in Circles. Through this album, he emerges as an imaginative, strong individual who weathered many storms in life but continued to move forward and stay positive. Miller was, and still is, an influential and profound figure in our time of pop culture, and the light he shined upon the world will never truly die.
Contact Luna Khalil at [email protected].