Mac Miller speaks from beyond the grave in ‘Circles’

Nataleah Small

An artist’s legacy is cemented the moment they pass from one world into the next. They can no longer affect how they are perceived, who they can influence or how they will be remembered. With the posthumous release of his sixth studio album, Mac Miller has created another impression on his legacy.

Before his death in 2018, the artist was deep into the recording process for his final album, Circles. Miller’s production partner, multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, completed the album, which was released on Jan. 17. Circles was intended to be a companion to his critically acclaimed 2018 album, Swimming

Each of the 12 songs on the 48-minute album are hard to listen to. Compared to Miller’s earlier records where he raps seductively about love or rebelliously about breaking the law, the sadness and exhaustion in his lyrics are palpable. 

“Circles,” the album’s opening track, begins with a 36-second instrumental intro before Miller takes a deep breath and sings, “Well, this is what it look like right before you fall.” The universe could fit in the pause between the first two words of the opening lyrics. Although his tone could be perceived as sad or remorseful, he sounds tired and thoroughly reserved to the reality that years of drug and alcohol use have taken a toll on his body. When he sings “I don’t have a name” and “I cannot be changed,” he takes responsibility for who he has become without lowering himself to apologize for his choices. 

In the fourth track, “Good News,” Miller confronts the disconnect between what his audience expects from him and what he’s able to deliver. He sings about being lost in his head, apologizing to his fans and family for acting distant and how it’s impossible to please everyone. It’s a subtle, yet poignant track. Miller raps gently over a steady drum line and chords plucked on string instruments. When he sings, “Sometimes the truth don’t sound like the truth/Maybe ‘cause it ain’t/I just love the way it sound when I say it,” he confesses that his successful, put-together outward appearance is deceptive. He’s hurting, but it’s a difficult admission.

As the final track on the album, “Once A Day” has the most to say with the simplest lyrics. A listener’s first impression might be that Miller is singing to a family member or lover. He nearly whispers, “Once a day, I rise/Once a day, I fall asleep with you/Once a day, I try, but I can’t find a single word.” But after hearing it again, the listener realizes that the artist is singing to himself. He reminisces about the expectations he had for his life and career but resigns himself to the fact that he can’t change what he’s become. The song was written from a place of sadness that is difficult to comprehend.

There is nothing bad to say about Circles. It is both a personal eulogy and an epilogue to a career that ended too soon. This was Miller’s deepest, most heartfelt album. These songs from beyond the grave will solidify this place in music history as one of the greats.