AOTM (May 2020) – Mac Miller ‘Circles’

Hi Brothers. Another lockdown AOTM. However, lockdown has nothing to do with why I chose this album by Mac Miller. This album was released in early Feb. so for me, it’s history pre-dates ‘all-of-this’ / ‘what-with-one-thing-and-another’ / insert your favourite ‘lock-down-euphemism’.

I could have chosen less risky AOTM options but figured that we all know what the Strokes sound like. Therefore I chose Circles by Mac Miller. Again, I cannot claim to be a an expert in this artist. I came to this early in 2020 when surfing through Meta-album-of-the-year sites. This album kept on showing up in the upper reaches of their meta-review scores. Also, it seemed to be one where the listener scores were very similar to the critics reviews which always makes me pay attention. So, without any further fannying around I downloaded the album, got stuck in and found myself listening to this loads.

I found it a rewarding album to listen to in full and in parts when time was limited. Tracks started to stick in my mind and the the tracks started to open themselves open. When you first listen to it I can feel really pleasant and accessible, it will make you smile and feel pretty good about life. However, I would be surprised if at some point (early on) you didn’t think it was a little dispensable … but I do think it deserves a little more attention. There’s obviously a big chunk of melancholy driving this album. I noticed that when the tracks started to unfold on repeated listens a comfortable but uncomfortable feeling started to creep over me.

It was this odd feeling that made me go back and read the reviews of the album. I think I am glad that I listened first and then read the reviews later. It turns out that this is a posthumous release. Mac Miller died in 2018 of an apparently accidental overdose. The Guardian described him as a capable but derivative frat-rapper (didn’t even know frat-rap was a thing) who started to experiment on later albums with a softer approach. He was a mult-instrumentlist who collaborated with the LA instrumental hip-hop crowd (Flying Lotus et al.). He was also in a long standing relationship with Ariana Grande, the end of which sparked his turn in musical direction.

He released a critically acclaimed album ‘Swimming’ in 2018 before his death. He left a significant amount of material that was developed by Jon Brion (friend, producer, composer) with the blessing of his family. Jon has kept the feel of Swimming (which he co-produced) on this album. Sparse, gentle, elegant and spacious production allows this album to flow around what turns out to be some beautiful lyrical content.

I rate this album. I keep coming back to it. It seemed perfect on the cold, dark commutes into Manchester … and on the cold, dark commutes home. It’s great music to cook to. It has a low-F-bomb-count. Low enough that Stacey’s never noticed so it gets plenty of air-time in our house. It also felt like the perfect album when it was 23 degrees last weekend. I think this will stay with me for a long time. I can hear loads of influences but nothing that I think is over-bearing. There are moments of Neptunes-esque and Neptunes-quality production that make me smile. It’s a lovely little thing. I hope you enjoy it.

4 comments

  1. nolankane706

    Mac Miller for me has always fallen into the category of being on my radar but has never stuck. A contributing factor is the fore-mentioned ‘frat boy rap’ category that he sat in. I’d tried it once with Asher Roth and was never too keen to return to that genre. I must admit that I have visited all of his albums as they all have received decent reviews but never game them the time to properly listen to spark any significant interest in what Mac Miller was about or saying. Not to say that Mac Miller was an average MC, his track ‘21 and Over’ with Sean P is quality and showed that he could hold his own with one of the greats in current times. Either way he was one of the most followed and talked about artists within his generation. He was as they say ‘a pretty big deal’.

    I approached this album open minded, wanting to like in ways and intrigued what had inspired Brother Joseph to pick the new Mac Miller from AOTM. From the jump off and throughout this album was not at all what I expected. It’s down-tempo laidback nature was unexpected and a bit confusing. When was get going to start rapping? When would the frat boy party anthems kick in? It was more Sunday morning at home than Friday night in a bar; and it found itself on its’ third listen in a row whilst I worked away in my office. It’s 48 minute run length falls into brother Joey’s optimal run length and when dug into has a nice mix of tracks.

    The lead off single ‘Good News’ was the first to raise eye brows. It’s catchy, but carries a downtrodden yet optimistic message. ‘Everybody’ was the second to catch me. The catchy yet down downtrodden lyrics are fair. ‘Woods’ was the next to flow in. Once again a pallet of mixed messages. It’s lovely but a bit sad.

    ‘Hand Me Downs’ may be my second favourite track on the song. Quickly followed by ‘That’s On Me’. Tone excluded the tracks are all catchy and I find myself singing along to many of them. ‘Once A Day’ is a smart choice to end the album with.

    So what is this album? It’s not frat rap and it’s not a party album? Is it a result of being thrown into the limelight at a young age? Years of not having a normal life, being bombarded by the media leading to melancholy and substance abuse? Or perhaps it’s a natural progression in the musical journey of Mac Miller? Maybe a bit of both? I’ve continually wondered if this is a glimpse of an artist that was just worn out or was at the brink of having enough? Or is this a well executed collection of relatable anthems to the generation that he created a massive following within?

    What ever this album is I really like it. It’s one of the best albums we have had as AOTM in recent times and there have been some good ones. Thanks for the intro Brother Joseph.

  2. misterstory

    Interesting write-up Nolan. I’ll come clean … I’d never heard of ‘frat rap’, Mac Miller or Asher Roth. Brother Kane, where do you find the time to listen to all this music? I’m jealous. Sounds like you had more knowledge and investment coming into this. I’m happy it made an impact for you and particularly as it was probably so far from what you were expecting? I count myself quite lucky to come at this one so fresh and clean. Given this, I am not sure I am qualified to say the following … but it feels like this is more the sound of an artist coming together rather than falling apart? It might be an artist finally coming together whilst his life was falling apart? As you say, regardless of what it is, I love it. If he were a brand new artist we might ask fewer questions and accept it and love it? RIP Mr. Miller and thanks for this.

  3. David Allison

    I really don’t know what to make of this album. Like, I genuinely don’t even know what I think. It’s really interesting that I find it so puzzling. It’s definitely not what I choose to listen to, I think, but it’s also very listenable and quite more-ish.

    Will give you a proper response after a few more listens!

  4. whyohwhyohwhy

    This is a surprise. Firstly, I had no idea who Miller was. Also I didn’t read this before listening, as I find it gives a bit more of a clean slate, and actually, I didn’t get listening until late May. But it’s been very pleasant. Not something I expected, and having no position on Mac Miller either meant I enjoyed it for what it is. A nice, subtle, melancholic album.

    The weight of the story would’ve been too much of a bias I think, too. It’s undeniably sad, of course, but if I’d known of his previous work (not to mention ‘frat rap’, ugh) I think it’d have coloured things too much for me. Interestingly, the bits that jar for me is when he raps. It feels a bit cringey, but then I also expected this to be a hip hop album, and so was surprised by the low-fi, scuzzy soul of it. This is a good thing, and I almost don’t think of (or block) the rap parts. If anything, they don’t work, but I guess they go back to his musical background.

    The question – as ever – is how much this will stick. I’m not sure yet, but it’s a good, leftfield choice.

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