Mac Miller’s posthumous album is a comforting, personal goodbye

Illustration by Evan McGrady

Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor

There’s something chilling about hearing an artist’s music after they’ve died, but it’s to a different degree when it’s newly released music. 

On Jan. 8, Mac Miller’s family released a statement on social media to announce that Miller, who died from a drug overdose in 2018, was in the process of recording music with collaborator Jon Brion to accompany his previous album, “Swimming,” before his death. 

The project, “Circles,” was made to complement “Swimming” to be referred to as “Swimming in Circles.” 

Brion worked on completing the album after Miller’s death. It was released as Miller’s sixth studio album and first posthumous album on Friday.

Posthumous albums, or albums released after a musician’s death, are a hot topic of discussion in the music world. We’ve seen these projects from artists whose lives tragically ended in the middle of their music careers, such as The Notorious B.I.G’s “Life After Death” in 1997, or Michael Jackson’s “Michael” in 2010 and “Xscape” in 2014.

While posthumous albums provide fans with one last glimpse at new music from the beloved artist, it also raises questions of whether the album is staying true to the artist’s vision.

“It’s truly a “Blue World” without Miller, but it’s more comforting to know the album was released by his family and close collaborators, avoiding the expectation of inauthenticity from a record label.” — Iman Mekonen

I couldn’t help but wonder whether “Circles” would sound as authentic as his original music.

My doubts were extinguished after I finished listening to the album for the first time. 

Here’s my review of “Circles.”

It’s hard not to get sad while listening to this album. 

The tone is reminiscent and lighthearted with his usual themes of looking back on life, love and mental health. 

It’s also chilling to hear a dead artist sing about death. 

In “Woods,” Miller says “I’ve spent my life livin’ with a lot of regrets / You throw me off my high horse, I’d probably fall to my death”

I remember watching the music video for “Self Care” about a week before Miller died and getting goosebumps all over after I found out he died. The video depicts him being buried alive in a casket. 

Miller’s unique raspy voice is oddly comforting in the introductory track, named after the album, as he sings about unknown fates. 

Overall, the album strays away from Miller’s traditional rap style. His jazz-singer pipes aren’t just heard in almost every song, including “Hand Me Downs” and “Complicated” — it’s a talent that absolutely shines on this album. It’s something that emerged gradually throughout the progression of his albums. 

Heavy experimentation with the overall sound by way of live instruments and electronic beats is spotlighted throughout the album. The piano on “Everybody,” drums and guitar on “Surf” and dreamlike synth beats on “I Can See” and “Blue World.”

It’s impossible to know if both albums achieved Miller’s vision, but if he left it up to interpretation, I would say they have. 

The album concludes with the reflective and melodious “Once A Day,” which features an abrupt ending on a literal high note. He sings “Once a day I try but I can’t find a single word,” repetitive of the opening line. This leaves the listener wondering in all aspects, “Is this it?”

It is, sadly. I can’t and won’t speak on behalf of his fans all around the world, but I feel a sense of satisfaction and contentment knowing I’ve been given a proper send-off to his music and life, instead of the unexpected shock that his death brought. 

However, after listening to “Swimming” and “Circles” together, this ending seems to flow directly into “Come Back To Earth,” the opening song of the former. This reinforces the never-ending “Swimming in Circles” concept that I hope to never stop hearing.

After “Swimming” was released, my listening experiences before and after Miller died were completely different. It goes to show how much emotion can affect an experience when listening to an album for the first time.

It’s truly a “Blue World” without Miller, but it’s more comforting to know the album was released by his family and close collaborators, avoiding the expectation of inauthenticity from a record label.

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