Mac Miller’s posthumous “Circles” highlights further lyrical evolution

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Ransom

"Circles" serves as a companion piece to "Swimming."

Emily Hoang, Staff Writer

One month after the release of his fifth album, “Swimming,” 26-year-old rapper Mac Miller’s time was cut short when he died of an apparent drug overdose that left the music world reeling. With the album “Swimming,” Miller’s growth as an artist, through sophisticated lyrical craftsmanship and his display of vulnerability around his depression and addiction, is evident through his music. Upon his death, which seems like the culmination of his struggles, it is hard not to feel the incessant pressure that time weighs on our limited existence and the inevitable fears around oblivion. However, Miller attempts to confront these questions in his album “Circles,” released as a companion piece to “Swimming.”

Although concerns were raised about releasing “Circles,” his family published a statement which noted that the two albums were meant to complement each other with the concept of “Swimming in Circles,” and how producer Jon Brion who worked with Miller finished “Circles” based on their conversations, and ultimately a recognition of how complicated the situation was but how “it was important to Malcolm for the world to hear it.” With the silence of promotion around the album, it felt like an appreciative gesture to the album to stand on its own as a piece of art. 

 “Circles” feels like a perfect end to Miller’s work as an artist. In his 2014 song titled “Ave Maria”, he dives into his struggle with drug abuse as the chorus repeats: “And sinners stay still, but the merry go round, and round/ It all just keeps spinning/ Gotta keep swimming/ Eat drink and let the merry go round.” His album “Swimming” continues with this theme of continuing to move forward despite seemingly inescapable cycles. “Swimming” ends with a song titled “So It Goes” in which the last verse laments over this same theme saying “My god, it go on and on/ Just like a circle, I go back to where I’m from.” The title of the song is also a reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which eerily repeats the phrase every time a death occurs. Even further, in the chorus of Miller’s song, the phrase “so it goes” and the word “circles” seem to have a similar sound that blends into each other, as if he is saying both at the same time. 

This makes the concept of “Circles” all the more complex as his first track echoes these references and ties everything together. “Circles” is more than just continuing to cope with the repetition of the past, but also confronts ideas about time itself with 12 songs that seem to mirror numbers on a clock. In the last line of “Circles,” Miller remarks “And I find/ it goes around like the hands that keep countin’ the time/ Drawin’ circles.” and finds union with the last line of the last track “Once A Day” which remarks “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.”

Even in the midst of frustration over his inability to break cycles, Miller’s overall mellow tone seems to present a sense of peace. Perhaps, even though a circle seems like a simple shape, it is complex because there is no end point and there is a sense of comfort that every point on the path is equidistant to the center. How beautiful it is that something unfinished has found completion and provides Mac Miller with a sense of timelessness, endlessness in his art.