- 13 Feb 20
The posthumous LP from tragic rhymer ripples with pathos
Your heart may break a little listening to Mac Miller’s posthumous new album. Miller was just 26 when, in September 2018, he suffered a fatal drug overdose. His passing at a young age was obviously a terrible tragedy. Circles is proof a talented rapper had also been taken as he was reaching his peak.
Circles was recorded concurrently with Swimming, Miller’s 2018 LP issued a month before his death. Completed by producer Jon Brion, the new record is every bit as fully-realised a work, brimming with pathos, sometimes unbearable in its honesty. “Everybody’s gonna live,” Miller observes at one point. “Everybody’s gonna die”.
That line pops up as the chorus to ‘Everybody’, a cover of the Arthur Lee / Love song that underpins Miller’s talents as rapper and arranger. As ever, he delivers his bars in a gruff quasi-slur, as if speaking to himself rather than his huge fanbase (which obviously included his ex, Ariana Grande).
He sounds like someone with a lot get off his chest, here and elsewhere. Occasionally he simply comes across as overwhelmed. “Maybe I’ll lay down for a little / Instead of always trying to figure everything out”, he observes on single ‘Good News’.
Yet the angst is mostly below the surface. Miller’s voice is paired with delicate beats: a groove often barely even a groove. The somnolence works, giving the lyrics – and Miller’s very audible sense of isolation and frustration – space to breathe.
Just how much work Brion put in after Miller’s death is unclear. But Circles sounds entirely fleshed-out, an album presented to the world as its creator would have wished. Miller’s family put out a statement recently explaining that they had agonised over whether or not to release it. They made the correct decision: Circles is a heart-wrenching in memoriam to an artist maturing at a frightening rate and clearly set for greatness.