Review: ‘Circles’ presents a raw side of Mac Miller

Review: 'Circles' presents a raw side of Mac Miller

The rapper's posthumous release is an authentic work, pieced together and produced by Miller's family and producer Jon Brion.
Published: January 27, 2020
Circles by Mac Miller

The death of Mac Miller in 2018 shook the music world, but his posthumously released album shook up his sound.

Miller’s family recently created the Instagram account @92tilinfinity, where they announced the future release of an album he had been working on prior to his passing.

Released on Jan. 17, Circles is a turning point in Miller’s life, with common threads throughout every track of looking for help and for hope, reflecting on past regrets with a more authentic and raw sound. A blend of both electronic beats and slow melodies fuse together to make the overarching and unique sound of Circles, which only includes one traditional rap song, called “Hands.”


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Circles. January 17.

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“Circles,” the first track off of the album, is slow and melodic as Miller sings – a surprising twist to his usual rap style. His voice is raw and raspy as he sings, “This is what it looks like right before you fall/ Stumblin’ around, you been guessing your direction.” Here, Miller talks about trying to find his way, and the calmness of the song brings him down to earth as he opens up to listeners.

The next track, “Complicated,” is an homage to some of his more well-known beats, with a funky vibe fused with an electronic melody reminiscent of The Divine Feminine. It’s more upbeat – in stark contrast to the previous song – as Miller pleads to just “get through the day.” The message is more hopeful as he tries to clean up the “clutter” in his head.

“Blue World” takes the electronic beats of “Complicated” to the next level, incorporating more rap in addition to his singing, which he hasn’t put on display as much as he does in this album. In the song, he says, “Reality’s so hard to find/ When the devil’s tryna call your line.” Here, like many of his past albums, he addresses his past sins, exemplifying his seemingly never-ending struggle of leaving his hazy lifestyle in the past.

“Good News” is the only single off the album, adding to his list of recent releases since his death – “That’s Life” featuring Sia and 88-Keys, and “Time” with Free Nationals and Kali Uchis. In the song, he calls out the people around him, saying they only like to see him when he’s succeeding, not when he’s failing or down. “Good news/ That’s all they wanna hear/ No, they don’t like it when I’m down,” he raps in the chorus.

One of the songs that shows the most hope from Miller is “I Can See.” In it, he raps “I’m looking for balance, I’m in an oasis/ Well, I need somebody to save me/ Before I drive myself crazy.” The beat and melody reverberate throughout the song psychedelically – a sound that could be described as “vibey” or “wavy” – as he is transparent about his journey to seek help.

Circles is an album that takes a sharp twist from any of Miller’s previous pieces of work.

His first mixtapes and EPs could be described as “frat boy” rap, with hard beats on which Miller rapped about drugs, sex, girls, partying and living the high life in general. This was before his tattoo sleeves, when he was just at the beginning of his seemingly short-lived career, passing away at only 26.

One of his first releases was K.I.D.S. in 2010, and one of the most popular songs, “The Spins,” showcased his entry into the spotlight and partying lifestyle, precariously on the cusp of fame. His beats were, in the simplest terms, happy and experimental. He was in his late teens, a young adult just trying to have fun with life.

His sound matured as he did. Watching Movies with the Sound Off was about loss and consequence with darker melodies and calmer beats that sounded less like a basement party and more like an adult that had experienced life.

The Divine Feminine was another drastic turn in his musical style, with Ariana Grade as his supposed muse, he incorporated jazz and funk sounds to rap about adult love and mature lust that showed a maturation of his emotions.

His second most recent album, Swimming, released right before his death, could be seen as a foreshadowing to Circles, featuring slower tracks and less upbeat rap that set this album apart from his others. The track “Come Back to Earth” is especially a sneak peek into his most recent work – just as raw and authentic as the entirety of Circles.

Both his legacy and his music are survived by his family and his listeners, especially with this new release that offers a deep insight into his struggles and his search for help and hope. These messages could feel eerie after his death due to a drug overdose after the album reveals he was trying to turn his life around.

Miller, whose take on music was atypical of traditional rap with twists and turns, surprised his listeners with the overall sound of Circles, a naked, stripped-down version of the rapper.