The idea of an artist struggling to create is pretty common, it’s practically a cliche at this point. It is so hard to watch someone, regardless of being a fan of or not, flame out. There are too many cases of young artists succumbing to drugs and alcohol in the prime of their career and the story of Mac Miller is sadly all too familiar. The young talented hip hop artist passed away in 2018 but his legacy lives on with the release of his final album, Circles, which is available everywhere today. Miller had been working on the album when he passed with acclaimed producer Jon Brion and with the blessing of the Miller family, Brion finished the artists final record. Circles is an unfortunate revelation. Combined with the stellar production, great songwriting and an across the board incredible performance by Miller, it makes the sting of this being his final release hurt all the more.
Circles finds Miller leaning on his singing more than he has in the past and combined with Brion’s great organic arrangements the whole proceeding becomes the artists most quietly mature release to date. Kicking off with the gentle title track, Miller drawls over smooth keys and wobbling bass line with just a hint of cymbals keeping time in the background. “Complicated” sees the artist take on a more contemporary soul direction. Miller’s super velvety vocal melodies elevate his mumbled delivery and when he sings, “I’m way too young to be getting old” the lyrics hit a little harder with what has transpired in hindsight. Lead single “Good News” bares the fingerprints of Jon Brion’s past production work. The tracks sophisticated instrumental, built up with a plucked string section and a warm synth track recall his work with Fiona Apple but Miller’s melodies and his flow tie the track together in the perfect way. “I Can See” has the feel of more contemporary hip hop than the tracks that has proceeded it but even with it’s hiccuped, trap-y beats Brion adds a ton of depth to the song. The star is always Miller’s voice but it’s supported by some woozy, chiming synths. With “Everybody” Miller slows things down. The track starts out with just piano and voice and when the beat kicks in the level of melancholy doesn’t dispute, in fact, the elevated feel of the track only serves to enhance it. “That’s On Me” has an almost circus-esque feel to it with it’s syncopated bop. Miller’s vocals belie that fact that the singer was so young. His delivery carries a lot of world weariness and even subjectively this weariness isn’t something that Miller strays from with his lyrics. He sings, “That’s on me, It’s all my fault”, with the gravitas of someone who was twice his age and it’s all completely believable. Musically the album is exceedingly bright and colourful. Even while Miller expounds from the deepest parts of his soul, the tracks are super clear and mixed so well that it all fits perfectly within its own space. This is super apparent on “Hands”. It’s one of the few tracks that Miller raps through and it is one of the few times I can remember when hip hop song seemed almost whimsical. The album closes with “Once A Day” which features just Miller’s voice overtop of a minimal synth track. Focusing mainly on the singer is a beautiful way to cap off this collection of songs.
While this may be Millers final album, it is a fitting tribute to a young artist struck down in his prime by illness and addiction. While it would’ve been preferred to have Miller still with us, crafting his music with the deft hand of Jon Brion behind him, Circles is something that can never taken away. A heady collection of beautiful melancholy giving the listener a unique view into this young mans soul. While the songs are among some of the best he has crafted, Circles fits in perfectly to Miller’s oeuvre and will possibly give some of his most ardent fans a chance to say goodbye.
Review by Adam Fink
Circles is out digitally everywhere via Warner Records and is available for pre-order physically now. There is also Circles merch online for a limited time only, starting today and ending next Thursday, January 23rd, at midnight PT. In conjunction with the album’s release, there will be three fan pop up exhibitions celebrating the music and legacy of Mac Miller in Los Angeles, New York, and Pittsburgh.
Launched in partnership with Amazon Music, the exhibitions will feature immersive, intimate, front-to-back listenings of Circles in Ultra HD audio, as well as a multimedia fan art exhibition and exclusive new Circles merch offerings. Capacity at listenings is extremely limited and will be conducted on a first come, first served basis. Entry is free and all net proceeds from pop up merch sales will go to The Mac Miller Fund. All locations will be open to the public from 12PM – 9PM local time on January 17th and 18th. Event location details and listening session times for each market are listed below:
Los Angeles, CA
700 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
New York, NY
91 Allen St, New York, NY 10002
424 Suismon St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212 (Gallery)
900 Middle St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212 (Listening Room)
Listening Sessions (local time):