**Limited clear vinyl**
When Mac Miller sought out Jon Brion to help produce the music that would become last year’s Swimming and this month’s Circles, even Brion thought it was an odd pairing. The renowned producer and film composer was 30 years the senior of the late rapper, part of a different generation and scene, and someone whose extensive list of credits included scarcely any hip-hop (Kanye West’s Late Registration and Graduation are notable exceptions). “I think he [Miller] presumed, quite honestly, that I’d had some sort of musical prejudice against hip-hop or people who made beats or something?” Brion recently told Vulture. “These were his exact words: ‘Oh, yeah. Hi. I really wanted to meet you, but I don’t know if you’d even consider what I do as music.’ ”
Miller’s supposition, of course, was nonsense. Brion may be best known for his work with distinguished singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann, but he harbored no such musical prejudices. When you got past their surface-level differences, the pairing actually made quite a bit of sense. Brion is talked about like a musical savant, but Miller—who played the drums, guitar, and piano and had bona fide production chops—was every bit his match. Emotionally, Miller fit in the Brion sonic universe, too. The films Brion has scored tend to be about people who are internally lost—navigating anxiety, depression, heartbreak, or some combination thereof. From interviews and song lyrics, it seems like Miller fit in the latter camp.
The magic of Brion’s scores is that they convey disorientation while also counterbalancing it. I often imagine his arrangements as wind slowly guiding characters from someplace sad to someplace mysterious. On Circles Miller is struggling (“Inside my head is getting pretty cluttered / I try, but can't clean up this mess I made”) and searching (“Once a day, I try, but I can't find a single word”), and Brion’s sparse, brooding melodies buoy his honesty and vulnerability. Circles, even more than Swimming, sounds cinematic—and not just because some of the notes might evoke Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The music moves and progresses, even if it usually does so rather aimlessly. On ballads like “Woods” and “Surf,” the skies are overcast and the palate is desaturated. The album begins with its title track, which opens with a soft chime and fuzzy bass loop, and Miller’s interior life is there even before he says a word (the first line is confirmation: “Well, this is what it look like right before you fall”).