Over the last decade, posthumous releases have tended to be absolute disasters. In many cases, the labels have simply put together a bunch of unfinished songs, added a ratty production, released them to the public without much concern for artistic legacy and made a lot of money (eh, Cleo and Empire?). I'm honestly relieved that "Circles" doesn't belong in this category. Mac worked hard on this record until his death, and finally the task of completing its production was entrusted to Jon Brion, who honestly pursued the project with the utmost respect.
Obviously, it's very sad. 26 is not an age to die. Mac is no exception. He still had a lot to say as an artist, and he was always finding his voice, developing his style, reinventing it, he always sounded so authentic and his music resonated with a lot of people. But let's move on. We are now in 2020, and "Circles" is here: an intimate and warm album, mostly neo-soul, a perfect end to Mac's very ecclectic discography.
The fact that "Circles" is fundamentally different from its predecessors shows the incredible will of the artist to constantly reinvent himself. With Jon Brion at the production, I had no doubt that in terms of beats, it would be very good. The first single, "Good News", bears witness to this - the warm and soft guitar, the striking contrast between the chord progressions and the lyrics, which moved me deeply, knowing what happened to Mac ("There's a whole lot more waiting for me on the other side / I'm always wondering if it feels like summer / I know maybe I'm too late, I could make it there some other time"). I thought "Good News" would be a model for the rest of the album, both in terms of lyrics and production: but no, the rest or the album doesn't seem too depressing or existential - in fact, a lot of the songs here are optimistic and joyful.
Jon Brion shines indeniably at the production - every element, instrument or sound is clear and striking. Everything seems so down to earth, so real, so authentic - it's rare to see memories of a deceased artist come to life in this way, and the fact that many of these tracks were made posthumously is incredible. The vivid imagery, the psychedelic nuances, the frankness and emotion, the comfort with which Mac embodies here the role of a nostalgic and depressed but hopeful singer. All this is done with such respect for Mac, that this is surely one of the best albums of his discography.
An incredibly successful posthumous album, Circles was for me, a moving and comforting listen, the most poignant and intimate way to say goodbye to one of the most influential rappers of the last ten years.
Rest in peace, Mac.
Best tracks: "Good News", "Everybody", "Hand Me Downs", "Blue World", "Woods", "Circles", "Complicated".
Worst track: "Hands"