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Circles, Mac Miller‘s sixth studio album and first posthumous release, is the other necessary half to 2018’s Swimming. Conceptually, Miller viewed both together as Swimming in Circles, as his family revealed recently, and he was well into recording it when he died in September 2018. As such, he left the world with Swimming as his final graceful exploration of the slow, almost painful process of healing.
Circles, out today (January 17), carries that pain and looks from the water to the cloudy skies. There’s something to smile about, and though it might not be here yet, it’s just over the horizon. Rap takes a backseat here to more melodic explorations; through producer Jon Brion‘s diligent work, these dozen tracks find Miller mumbling, singing, chanting, and whispering to himself like there’s no audience, as if he’s singing into the mirror for the ultimate pep talk. As he sifts through his psyche to process a past relationship, he delivers some of his most intense, emotional, and gripping lyrics, often stripping back metaphors, similes, and punchlines to bring puffy-eyed catharsis.
Circles finds Miller taking responsibility for past choices and hints at having a better state of mind. This new sense of peace is best illustrated on “Surf,” where he declares, “I’m starting to see that all I have to do is get up and go,” a strong statement that lets you know that, in the end, all the mind needs is time.
Listen to Circles, and below, find a track-by-track guide that highlights how each song shows the album’s hard-fought trek from a dangerous sea to the safety of the shore.
Key lyrics: “Well this is what it looks like right before you fall / Stumbling around, you been guessing your direction, except you can’t see at all”
How it resonates: The title track sets the mood and tone, continuing the drowning feeling from Swimming. Slow and lumbering, Mac tries to figure out where to go when he’s kicking his feet in the water in the middle of nowhere. This line begins the album in the now; Miller keeps returning to the startling line.
Key lyrics: “Before I start to think about the future / First can I please get through today?”
How it resonates: The stinging synths of singe your inner ears as Miller, cozying up to an easy-grooving set of drums, questions why things just can’t be simple for a moment: “Does it always gotta / Gotta be so complicated?”
Key lyrics: “Reality is so hard to find / When the Devil’s trying to call your line / Shit, I always shine”
How it resonates: Miller’s funkiest and eeriest Circles tune sounds like Dr. Manhattan and eight clones yelling into an echoing cave. With a slightly uptempo, yet endlessly energetic backdrop built around ethereal v