Swimming in Circles

Album artwork for Mac Miller's "Circles"
"Circles" album artwork | Courtesy of Warner Records

I remember the first time I ever listened to Mac Miller. I was sitting in the Dairy Queen drive-through, awaiting a celebratory DQ Blizzard with my best friend and co-volleyball captain, Bri. At the time, our cyclical conversations revolved around the same three topics: boys, volleyball, and music, all of which were grossly intertwined. As we scrolled through the Twitter of one of Dearborn’s finest men, we came across a screenshot of “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty.”

It played instantly, not because we cared about the song, but because we wanted to relate (and, if needed, impress) the cute boy in the 12th grade.

Within seconds, we were captured by the beauty that is Mac Miller. It made its way into every playlist, car ride, and conversation. Each time I hopped in Bri’s car, it was the first song to play, and I never hesitated to put it on again. It played at parties, volleyball games, pretty much every social gathering after that. Everyone knew it. Everybody loved it.

Growing up, I was spoonfed classic rock. I never cared to expand my music taste, especially into the world of rap, but this wasn’t rap. Sure, Mac was a “rapper,” but never harsh. I thought the two were synonymous, especially coming from a household that preferred the works of Led Zeppelin over anything else. “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty” opened my eyes to the diversity of music; the personality of sound.

Years later, I experienced the same attachment to “Swimming,” Miller’s fifth studio album. Once again, it was the first thing to play in a car with all my friends. It came on at parties, volleyball games, this time in college. It gave me an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, the feeling of having gone full circle.

I enjoyed his music until his death in September 2018; an accidental drug overdose that left fans without an answer. Listening to his music felt like a sin. I couldn’t appreciate it like I used to. It felt wrong. He had so much left to give, music to produce. I felt empty. Once again, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty” stayed on repeat for several days.

Miller passed one month after the release of “Swimming,” the first in a two-part album series. Nearly a year after his death, his family released a statement announcing a final album, “Circles,” to compliment the former. “Two different styles complementing each other, completing a circle -- Swimming in Circles was the concept,” the statement read. Fans were skeptical. Former Henry Ford College Hawk Annalise Wall didn’t know if she’d be able to listen to it. “I don’t know if I could get through it,” she said, “it’s still just so sad.” Posthumous releases are always controversial, and, with an artist as beloved as Mac, the thought of listening to his music without him seemed unbearable. I disagreed.

“Circles” was released on Jan. 17. I listened to it right when I woke up, start to finish, before I got out of bed. I loved it from the first second. The entire album was like a lullaby, but one that made me want to stay awake forever. Every song perfectly stemmed from the last, retelling similar stories of survival and resurrection. He addressed his drug habits in such a way that it was almost consoling, but only almost. It was Mac. It felt as though all of his music, every song, every album, came together in one final ode to individuality. Full circle. I thought it was flawless. Had it been any different, I wouldn’t have liked it as much. I was emotional within 30 second of its start, tearing up at the opening melody, and crying by the first line, “this is what it looks like, right before you fall.”

I can’t pick a favorite, but there are certainly some songs worth listening to. “Blue World,” the third song, speaks to Miller’s true sense of musical expression, a hard beat with clever lyricism. “Hand Me Downs” and “That’s On Me,” the eighth and ninth, demonstrate the diversity in his style, incorporating meaningful messages with soft tones and angelic rhythms. Perhaps the most moving is “Everybody,” the sixth track, which begins with a gentle whisper from Miller, no background noise, and lyrics from Love’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live.” In this brief but intimate opening, Miller opens with “everybody’s gotta live, and everybody’s gonna die.”

No amount of music could ever replace the void left by Mac’s death, but “Circles” is a pretty good compromise. I hope it’s everything he wanted it to be, because it’s much more than I could have asked for.

“Circles” can be found on all major streaming services.

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