Mac Miller review, Circles: Posthumous album reflects an artist at his creative peak

“Everybody’s gonna live,” Mac Miller sings on his posthumous album, Circles, as though he can barely summon the energy to say the words. “Everybody’s gonna die.”

The Pittsburgh rapper, whose natural charisma and prolific output earnt him a cult fanbase, was working on what was meant as a companion record to 2018’s Swimming when he died of an accidental overdose, aged 26. The playback of Circles, which took place at Abbey Road Studios in London, was an emotional evening – not least because this music, assisted by producer Jon Brion and released with his family’s blessing, shows an artist at his creative peak. 

Like its predecessor, the album is drenched in languorous grooves and buzzy synths – only here, Miller seems more at peace with himself, whereas Swimming felt like a quest for self-acceptance. Circles opens on the sun-dappled title track, electric guitar thrumming on a see-saw hook under Miller’s hoarse mumble: “This is what it look like/ Right before you fall/ Stumblin’ around you’ve been guessin’ your direction/ Next stop you can’t see at all.”

There’s plenty of whimsy on “Complicated”, as Miller sings of cloudy skies over synths loaded with psychedelic fuzz; on the cheerfully glum “Good News”, meanwhile, he sharpens his teeth to recall the mordant bite of Randy Newman.

Through the album there’s a mesmerising rhythm, a kind of rocking horse motion that spurs you on to the next track. Miller was an avid Beatles fan – you hear it on the waltzing piano of “That’s On Me”. It’s bold for how often Miller chooses to sing instead of rap; braver still for the way his singing makes him sound so vulnerable.

In what would prove to be his last interview, Miller spoke of how “the beauty is in being able to be in both places”, experiencing both peace and chaos; being carefree one moment, fraught the next; of having good days but also bad. He craved that balance. On Swimming he was adrift, searching for a lighthouse beam that would bring him back to “a place of comfort”. On Circles, it sounds as though – if only for the briefest of moments – he found it.   

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