In early 2018, music producer Jon Brion’s studio was filled with life. The cramped studio––bathed in light from low-hanging fixtures and laughter from producer/rapper Mac Miller––had a much different atmosphere than it has today.
Infused in the posthumous release of the late Miller’s album, “Circles” represents the passion of those late afternoons in Brion’s Burbank studio. As the more upbeat and instrumentally varied companion to his latest album “Swimming,” listeners can picture the eggshell walls of the recording booth, the switchboard brightening under takeout containers and the ashtrays balancing on the sofa. The darkness of Miller’s psyche is blurred and leavened by light instrumentals in each self-reflective piece.
Released as the second installment of an aquatic-themed album trilogy after his tragic death in September 2018, “Circles” is a patchwork of the nearly-completed tracks that Miller left behind. Brion, who worked closely with Miller, sculpted the tracklist from a personal demo collection and fragments of their conversations.
As a devoted Mac Miller fan, it is difficult to critique a body of work only partially created under his steady hand and meticulous eye. The first release was a groggy single entitled “Good News.” As sleepy vocals cruise through plucky strings and woozy guitar fuses with soft drum beats, I’m left wondering how Miller would have adapted the track if he were still here.
Lyrically, the song is more tone-driven than it is innovatively crafted, which explains why the label selected it as a single. While accurately establishing the optimistic theme of “Circles,” “Good News” posits the album as artistically safe, something Miller would have probably disliked. After releasing a music video of himself breaking out of a coffin to accompany the first single off of “Swimming,” I believe that Miller would have preferred to introduce “Circles” to the world with a more daring piece.
Ultimately, I refrained from deconstructing the songs as I usually do when a new album drops. Not only was each song a beautiful departure from the at times monotonous and repetitive instrumentation of “Swimming,” but each reminded me of the presence of an artist lost too soon. I’m glad that “Circles” was released, despite it not being Miller’s complete vision, because the world is a better place with tracks like the nostalgic “Blue World” and the smooth “I Can See.”
All I can hope for is that Mac Miller is somewhere like the visuals that accompanied the release of “Good News”: sitting in a delicately unfolding lotus flower or skating through the clouds. If you miss him like I do, or if you just need the perfect driving album, give “Circles” a listen. π