First Impressions: Mac Miller – Circles

Pittsburgh born rapper Mac Miller doesn’t need much of an introduction; if he somehow didn’t pop up on your radar in the 10ish years he was releasing music I’m sure you’re at the very least aware of him since his unfortunate passing in September 2018 at the age of 26. Mac Miller made waves as both a rapper and a singer, as a producer, and even as the one time boyfriend of pop superstar Ariana Grande. Throughout his career he experimented with a range of different sounds, collaborated with a plethora of other artists, and maintained a constant presence in the rap scene, and therefore was one of the most successful white rappers ever.

If you happen to unfamiliar with Mac, here’s a bit of a ‘long story short’ version of his career. Mac grew up playing piano, drums and bass guitar, and decided he wanted to become a rapper when he was 14 years old. He released his debut mixtape ‘But My Mackin Ain’t Easy’ In 2007 under the moniker Easy Mac, and then in 2009 he changed his name to Mac Miller and released 2 more mixtapes; The Jukebox & The High Life. In 2010 Mac signed to independent label Rostrum Records, and that same year released his mixtape K.I.D.S. It was around this time Mac started to blow up, particularly in the ‘frat rap’ scene, largely due to his focus on social media engagement, digital sales & persistent touring. In 2011 he released his fifth mixtape ‘Best Day Ever’ which boasted the single ‘Donald Trump’, Mac’s first single to break the Billboard Hot 100 and his first platinum selling single. Later in 2011 Miller was announced as part of the 2011 XXL Freshman list alongside rappers such as Kendrick Lamar & Meek Mill. In November of 2011 he released his debut album titled ‘Blue Slide Park’, his most popular project yet, debuting at number one and selling over 140000 copies in its first week. In 2012 Mac released his Macadelic mixtape, as well as his first release as Larry Lovestein, an EP which featured Mac singing over jazzy instrumentals.

2013 saw Mac collaborating with Ariana Grande for the first time on the triple-platinum certified ‘The Way’, and released his second album ‘Watchjng Movies With The Sound Off’ In June. In 2013 Mac also released an album with Vince Staples in which he was on producer duty, released a self produced mixtape under the ‘Delusional Thomas’ alias, and released his ‘Live From Space’ live album. In 2014 he left Rostrum Records, and shortly after he independently released his ‘Faces’ mixtape. Towards the end of 2014 he signed to Warner Bros. Records, and then in 2015 released his major label debut GO:OD AM. He followed that with an album revolving around love, the 2016 release ‘The Divine Feminine’. In 2018 Mac released his final album as a living artist, titled Swimming. Shortly after Swimming Miller unfortunately passed away from an accidental drug overdose. Along with all these standout moments Mac has done an incredible amount of work elsewhere, featuring on other artists songs, touring the world, and even starring in TV shows and movies.

And that should have you caught up! On January 17th 2020 we saw the release of the first posthumous album from Mac Miller, titled Circles. The album contains 12 tracks and is meant as a companion album to his last release, Swimming. The album was preceded by the release of the single Good News in the week leading up to the album. Below I’ll review the album in 2 parts, first will be my track by track opinions, which will be my informal and unedited notes I made as I listened through for the first time, and following that will be my thoughts on the album as a whole. I’ll include links to listen to the album at the bottom, as well as a couple of discussion questions. Enjoy!

Track By Track Review

1. Circles – Real pleasant guitar, has this real somber feel. The melodies from Mac are beautiful, lyrics are amazing too, quite introspective. Song has this real nostalgic, reminiscent feel. Nice song

2. Complicated – Funky beat, nice combination of this laid back drum beat and funky little synths. More nice singing and melodies from Mac. Really enjoy the overall production. Hook has a real nice feel to it and is quite catchy. Nice beat change, interesting change up in Mac’s delivery too. Lyrics are basic but personal and relatable

3. Blue World – “It’s a blue world without you”, song starts on a real sad note, beat is really upbeat and chaotic though, good contrast. Mac flows great on this beat, solid delivery too. Hook is short and sweet, transition to the verse is great. Second verse is enjoyable too, solid bars and rhymes throughout. Beat is really addictive. The singing towards the end sounds amazing, nice little touch. Loved this song

4. Good News – Great thumping bass and real pleasant guitar, works amazingly well together. Real personal lyrics from Mac again, with this nonchalant delivery that sounds amazing. Great mix of rapping and beautiful melodies. Amazing lyrics, lots of impressive metaphors. Hook is nice too, more beautiful melodies from Mac. Beautiful song, loved it

5. I Can See – Strange beat, really well produced though. Has this real mellow ‘floating’ feel. Some decent flows and deliveries from Mac, and more emotion packed bars. Beautifully sung hook again, great melodies and is catchy too. Song drags on though, just an okay track

6. Everybody – Amazing singing straight from the start, sounds beautiful. Mix of sad and motivational lyrics. Real poppy beat, is simple but isn’t too bad. Mac’s melodic flows are incredible. Hook is great; short catchy and sounds fantastic. Verses are real nice but could be a bit longer. Mac gives me real Freddie Mercury vibes at times. Beautifully sung little bridge section towards the end, great guitar too. Enjoyed this one

7. Woods – The drums on this sound like something by Weeknd, best is simple for the most part, has some real nice subtle touches scattered throughout though. Mac’s flows are pretty basic, and the delivery isn’t too exciting. Melodies on the hook are just okay, not the best hook. The beat has some highs, and Mac’s rhymes are solid, but otherwise song is average

8. Hand Me Downs (ft. Baro Sura) – Real low tempo drum beat and mellow guitar. Love Mac’s delivery and rhymes on this one, probably his best yet. Impressive melodic flows, sounds perfect over this instrumental. This has my favourite verses so far on this album, Mac rides the beat so effortlessly and his flows and delivery are just so addictive. Baro Sura sounds fantastic on the hook, one of the catchiest hooks so far. Great song

9. That’s On Me – Hook isn’t too special, repetitive and is too long. Beat is real upbeat and happy, whereas Mac’s delivery is lazy is nonchalant, doesn’t mesh the best. Some nice singing and lyrics from Mac but the song falls short overall

10. Hands – Real interesting beat, strange synths, but sounds great combined with the other components. Mac flows decently well over it, switches it up a bit, has some great moments. Great lyrics and rhyme schemes, verse gets better as it progresses. Hook sounds okay but I wish it had words haha. Beat gives me Christmas vibes at times. On the fence

11. Surf – Super low key beat, real chill guitar vibes. Mac flows great and is very optimistic in his lyrics, the usual impressive rhymes. Some more really pleasant melodies from Mac too, his singing sounds amazing. Beat gets more exciting and slightly more upbeat as it progresses, has some exciting sections. Personally I’m not a fan of long instrumental outro’s and this is an example of one of those, not a fan, drags on way too long despite sounding great. Average song in the end

12. Once A Day – Some more pleasant melodies from Mac, but nothing too exciting. More optimistic lyrics, very introspective at times too. The flows and delivery are quite enjoyable. Songs nice but not one of my favourites, felt lacking, and felt like a disappointing end to what may be Mac Miller’s final album

Album Review

Just wanted to preface this by saying that I’ve been a big fan of Mac Miller since I first heard ‘Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza’ In 2010, so like many other fans I was extremely upset when Mac passed in 2018, and it still upsets me to this day. In this little review I won’t be getting too personal and therefore may overlook the emotional impact this album has on many. I’m not ignorant to it, just wanted to focus more on the music itself. Also with that said I won’t be talking about Circles in the context of it being a posthumous release; meaning I won’t be dropping a bunch of ‘This hits so much harder after Mac’s passing’ & ‘I think Mac would have done this different if he were still around’ cliche’s.

With that out of the way, I think overall Circles was pretty much what I was expecting, and I don’t think anyone would really be shocked with the direction Mac went with the album unless they’ve been totally disconnected from hip hop and Mac for the last 5 years. I feel like this is either a good or bad thing depending on personal taste and what kind of Mac sound enjoy. I personally found a bunch of songs to be enjoyable all the way through, thought almost every song had at least some enjoyable moments, but overall think this is far from Mac’s most enjoyable or impressive project. As someone who loves earlier Mac, and hadn’t really enjoyed his last 2-3 albums as much I thought this was pretty much a given, but in the end I still think this was at least as enjoyable as Swimming and The Divine Feminine.

One of my favourite things about the album was that nothing seemed forced. There were no questionable features thrown onto songs to garner more streams, everything in the production felt purposeful, and Mac himself sounded personable and genuine throughout the album, with no overly poppy tracks. I like the length of the album, and felt there was only one or 2 tracks that dragged on and overstated their welcome. The one feature on the album was well placed and his hook was an amazing addition. Mac Miller himself was responsible for s majority of the high points, with consistently solid flows, emotion packed and often relatable lyrics, and at times some super impressive rhyme schemes. On top of that his singing and melodies on this album were some of the best he has ever delivered, really showcased his beautiful voice. I loved the hook on ‘Complicated’, Mac spits some of his best bars on the album on ‘Blue World’, the entirety of ‘Good News’ is an amazing showcase of his versatility, & his singing on ‘Everybody’ is beautiful & almost reminiscent of Freddie Mercury at times. On top of all that, ‘Hand Me Downs’ is an exceptional song all the way through and probably my favourite on the album. So overall there were lots of positives on this album, with most of them being Mac, and I can certainly understand people loving this album.

As mentioned earlier the main reason I wasn’t a big fan of this album is just because it’s not really ‘my kinda Mac’. I think he was one of the most talented wordsmiths and impressive rappers in the game, and know he is capable of so much more. So that being said I don’t really think there was a whole lot of bad on the album. I thought the bars at times were a bit basic on songs such as ‘Conplicated’, I thought his flow was a bit lazy and uninteresting on ‘That’s On Me, I think ‘I Can See’ drags on a bit too long, and ‘Surf’s’ instrumental outro was far too long. I also felt there weren’t many standout moments in the production, despite the whole album being so well produced. The beats were consistently well crafted and carried this consistent vibe throughout the album, but in a day and age where almost every album has at least a couple outstanding beats or experimental instrumentals it just felt like it was lacking ‘wow’ moments.

So in summary I think this was a good album, but not particularly an exciting one. There was lots of talent on display from Mac both as a rapper and as a singer, and I feel like this was a great companion album to Swimming. With multiple great songs and many enjoyable moments I’m sure there’s parts of this album you’ll enjoy no matter who you are, but if you were a fan of Mac Miller’s last couple of albums then Circles is absolutely down your alley. RIP Mac!

Final Notes

You can stream Circles on Spotify here, or on Apple Music here!

You can also listen to it in full on YouTube here!

All songs have an animated visualiser like music video which you can see by checking the YouTube link above.

My favourite songs were Blue World, Good News, Everybody & Hand Me Downs.

What were your opinions on the album?

Do you feel I’m overlooking any songs?

Thanks for reading!

– Shan –

One thought on “First Impressions: Mac Miller – Circles

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