“Everyone will live,” sings Mac Miller on his posthumous album, Circles, as if he could barely evoke the energy to pronounce the words. “Everyone will die.”
The Pittsburgh rapper, whose natural charisma and prolific production brought him a fan base, was working on what was to be a record associated with 2018 I swim when he died of an accidental overdose, at the age of 26. Playing Circles, which took place at Abbey Road Studios in London, was an exciting evening, also because this music, assisted by the producer Jon Brion and published with the blessing of his family, shows an artist at his creative peak.
Like its predecessor, the album is steeped in languid grooves and vivid synthesizers – only here does Miller seem more at peace with himself, while I swim it seemed like a search for self-acceptance. Circles opens on the sunlit title track, the electric guitar beats on a saw-shaped hook under Miller’s hoarse mutter: “This is what it looks like / Just before you fall / Beginning to guess that you guessed your direction / Next stop not you can see at all. “
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There’s plenty of whimsy on “Complicated”, as Miller sings of cloudy skies over synths loaded with psychedelic fuzz; on the cheerfully glum “Good News”, meanwhile, he sharpens his teeth to recall the mordant bite of Randy Newman.
Through the album there’s a mesmerising rhythm, a kind of rocking horse motion that spurs you on to the next track. Miller was an avid Beatles fan – you hear it on the waltzing piano of “That’s On Me”. It’s bold for how often Miller chooses to sing instead of rap; braver still for the way his singing makes him sound so vulnerable.
In what would prove to be his last interview, Miller spoke of how “the beauty is in being able to be in both places”, experiencing both peace and chaos; being carefree one moment, fraught the next; of having good days but also bad. He craved that balance. Up I swim he was adrift, searching for a lighthouse beam that would bring him back to “a place of comfort”. Up Circles, it sounds as though – if only for the briefest of moments – he found it.