Swimming in Circles

By Ezra Wallach

Mac Miller’s new project Circles was released last Friday and received public and critical praise alike. The project, which was started and conceived by Miller, was completed by his friends and other musicians after his passing in late 2018. Twelve songs and 48 minutes in length, the album relies heavily on slow, repetitive beats to set the mellow and occasionally melancholy mood. 

Now, I’m going to be honest, I rarely listen to albums in their entirety. Even with my favorite artists, such as Frank Ocean or Drake (yes, I am that basic), it’s rare that I listen to their albums from top to bottom, let alone in one sitting. 

But, for Mac Miller, an artist who makes several appearances on my “GOATS” playlist, I figured I would give it a shot this time. On my bus ride from Denver to Colorado Springs, I committed myself to listening to the whole thing, without distracting myself.

Before I start my deep, albeit brief dive into this album, I would like to mention the last non-chorus line of the last song on the last album, Swimming, which reads, “My god, it go on and on/Just like a circle, I go back to where I’m from.” It was announced by Miller’s family that this new album would be a companion piece to his previous one, as he talks about how life goes in circles, yet he just has to keep swimming.

I could explain in depth why the album was good from a musical perspective, but that isn’t why I haven’t stopped listening to it. I, like Mac, spend large chunks of time “in my head, doing a little spring cleaning,” as mentioned in the only single on the album, “Good News.”  

This is a recurring theme on the album — not just the idea that life itself goes in circles, but that the thoughts inside of his head do too. On the track “Hand Me Downs,” he discusses his infatuation with a woman who, in a way, heals him. She gets his mind to stop spinning and injects him with reason and sanity that he fails to achieve all by himself. Even so, Miller discusses his occasional reluctance to commit himself to her, and disbelief at how she could put up with him despite his flaws. 

I too spend a lot of my time in my head,  just like Mac — not just thinking, but trying to “figure everything out.” Honestly, it is one of the reasons why people like me, and why I like myself. But, it can leave me trapped, like over this break, when I found myself constantly overthinking, oftentimes ending in realizations that I had already reached.

And so, as I sat on the bus, approaching the end of my calm, yet simultaneously chaotic break, I reflected. I thought about life — how it often moves in circles, but also how I am young, and how whether or not I am confident in my ability to understand myself and the world around me, I am incredibly inexperienced at life.

Miller does state at one point in the album that “it ain’t that bad,” and that there’s “a whole lot more for me waiting.” Considering his premature death, this could make what was supposed to be the most hopeful part of the entire album the most depressing. With this, though, he does leave us with hope, even if it comes from the recognition and reflection of our own destructive behaviors. 

Now, I know this probably isn’t what most album reviews look like, especially considering how most of it included the repeated insertion of my own self into the article, but hopefully one of y’all who made it to the end can recognize the vulnerability of Mac Miller in his music and how it can be empowering. Not vulnerability that comes from discussing his problems, like family issues or drug issues or girl issues, but vulnerability that comes from admitting uncertainty in himself, vulnerability that discloses the constant fear of returning to rock bottom no matter how high up you reach. And finally, vulnerability that admits that the main obstacle to success is coming to terms with how to live with yourself, even if all of these characteristics only work to hurt the people around you.

“Why you gotta build something beautiful just to go set it on fire,” he says. Beauty and destruction. Start to finish. Beginning to end to beginning. Just like a circle. But, like he said, as long as you stay afloat, maybe everything will figure itself out.

R.I.P. Mac. May your spirit lift us up forever. 

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