Mac Miller - Swimming
Aug 14, 2018
Musically, whatever positives I found here were only relative, and the core substance of the album came to be very bland, unshaped, and uninspiring. Of course, there were peaks and valleys, but the peaks weren’t all too rewarding anyways. Miller’s inconsistency at finding worthwhile ideas to build around in any given layer wasn’t necessarily a downfall, as it meant that improvements were found throughout and no failed element of a song stayed for too long. There were plenty of failures, though, especially in Miller’s inability to find engagement through his bleak line composition and lack of syncopation, that couldn’t be overcome by any of the faint sonic amenities tacked on.

I’ll go right for the throat to start here and criticize the predictably lackluster melodic layer, which was the most exposed element of the music, as well as the most annoying and insufferable. Rap isn’t simply saying words to a beat; in this very open, exposed style that hinges upon the voice alone to secure the listener’s initial interest, it isn’t enough to find one rhyme every downbeat and peacefully fit in the rest of the sentence to follow the time signature’s obvious accents. That puts an active listener to sleep really quick. Talent in lyrical flexibility and accent displacement is crucial within a mostly spoken and overly highlighted melodic layer like this, and Miller was not up to the challenge. Unfortunately, this was the part of the music that was mostly consistent; it was either egregiously awful or annoyingly plain, never getting beyond that for any big stretch of time.

One redeeming factor of his melodies that stopped them from reaching complete garbage level was the sheer lyrical density and perpetual motion of his lines that maintained energy and never got strictly dull in that regard. Sure, it would’ve been great had the lines felt less rushed and been more rhythmically thought out, but there was at least something in place keeping the music afloat at most times. That being said, there were three songs that noticeably left perpetual motion out and instead relied on basic repetition alone: “Hurt Feelings”, “Self Care”, and “Conversation Pt. 1”. This was a terrible decision, since that was always where the music found the most urgency and purpose. That completely disappeared in these three tracks. The harmonic layer in turn became very lost and unhelpful with trying to hone in on a repetitive figure of its own that had absolutely no semblance of direction or connection to the rest of the song. These three songs completely took out perhaps the one spark of interest the rest of the music had and were some of the worst songs I’ve heard all year. These were the true valleys in the album, and what quickly sunk the work into complete mediocrity.

There isn’t much reason to dwell on what I thought was positive, as every small moment of delight was quite secluded and passed by without affecting the entire experience much. Sure, I thought the bass groove on “What’s the Use?” was superb, but all it did was show the type of strong instrumental feature and virtuosity that the rest of the music lacked. I also thought that “2009” was actually quite decent, having a strong orchestrated introduction and a compelling vi V IV I ii progression, being about the most interesting a harmonic layer can get when repeating same pattern for 5 minutes. Again, that only showed what the rest of the album lacked, which was harmonic functionality and emphasis on progression. Some progressions here had some nice emphasis on their own, like the slow i v ii with a good 3+3+2 rhythmic pattern in “Jet Fuel”, but that neither had the compelling functional direction to take the song anywhere of importance, nor did it give the melody any strong foundation to build an interesting shape from.

These are basic songwriting procedures that Miller completely whiffed at, making his meanings come across as weak and overall presentation come off as careless. He can find a sustainable musical idea once in every five songs or so, but that isn’t enough to call nearly an hour-long work worthwhile. He can try to build the music off of strict unaltered emotion as much as he wants and come out with this glossy, soft, light work of music, but in the end, maybe he’s just not all that talented.

Melodic Intrigue: 15/50
Harmonic Creativity: 21/50
Timbral Effectiveness: 24/50
Intangible Influence: 24/50
Final Score: 84/180 (Deficient)
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