Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mac Miller - Swimming Review

While he's never been the best at disclosing the pain felt within, Mac Miller's life has been filled with it. Shunned by the fanatical Hip-Hop community - one he himself was apart of growing up - prior to 2013 for being a cliched frat rapper, Miller unburdened himself with addictive lean usage, something that negligently gave way to his breakout project Watching Movies With The Sound Off. His change in demeanor, tone, and content - along with credible features like Schoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt, and Flying Lotus - converted naysayers by touting a total 180. Unfortunately, Miller's career has stagnated since then, helmed by watered down imitators Faces and GO:OD AM, one mixtape and one LP that proved to be indistinguishable and unimpressive. However, whilst maintaining the integrity of a rapper evading the current Trap sensation, 2016's Divine Feminine proved to be his most misguided yet, urged by then-girlfriend Ariana Grande's Pop appeal to create a sex-controlled work that diluted the variance between love and love-making. Years removed from his drug addiction, mere weeks from his scornful breakup, aged steadily in-between, Miller's fifth LP Swimming promises to circumvent expectation with a record that's mature, both lyrically and sonically.

What prevents Swimming from scaling over that precipice is the same thing that dooms many equivalently-sophisticated albums; boredom. Much like J.Cole on his past few projects (KOD, 4 Your Eyez Only), Miller sets sights on solo establishment, choosing to forgo features entirely. This, a wise decision to analyze Miller's personal growth, but a regrettable one in terms of stimulating the material. Couple that with the overindulgent blend of drowsy Neo-Soul ('Come Back To Earth,' 'Small Worlds'), Funk-induced Alternative R&B ('Ladders,' 'What's The Use'), and pseudo-cognitive Pop Rap ('Hurt Feelings,' 'Jet Fuel'), and you're left with a collection that rarely strikes, stuns, or shocks. Like The Internet's latest humdrum Hive Mind, Swimming cruises casually off well-indebted customs rather than eyeing more provocative avenues for concentration. Even Syd The Kid and Miller's singing vocals are comparable, each wallowing in a state of lethargic, post-romance comatose (seen here on 'Perfecto' and 'Small Worlds'). That's not to say either's vocals are bad, just severely lacking with the variety our modern music industry demands.

Nearly exclusive to Mac Miller though, these meditative grooves compliment the reclusive celebration of mental mending, which is Swimming's primary topic of concern. The pairing feels apt, as we see right off the bat on the light and blossoming 'Come Back To Earth,' a track similar to Chance The Rapper and Jamila Woods' warmth-inducing positivity. While failing to say anything particularly note-worthy throughout the LP - an inefficacy as familiar as Miller's cursory flows - the genuineness he sports on tracks like 'Wings' and 'Jet Fuel' really heighten the impact, even if his general philosophizing about quelling life's troubles has been an age-old adage. Other standouts like the paddling melancholy of 'Dunno,' the homely confab of 'So It Goes' - which accomplishes that communal homogeneity Post Malone's been pursuing - and '2009' contribute to Swimming's best material. The latter in particular is of exceptional note, witnessing Miller's maturity hit a confident stride through sheer, piano-driven minimalism. The orchestral arrangements drip with veracity, and bring about comparisons to Kanye West's own orchestra era; Late Registration. Even '2009's' content - an historical pilgrimage from Miller's past to present - achieves far more than other haphazard affairs like 'Hurt Feelings' or 'Conversation, Pt.1.'

Depending on perspective, Swimming's best four tracks are its last. 'Wings,' 'Come Back To Earth,' and 'Self Care'-post salivating beat switch are contenders, but the introspection and honesty truly shines when, unfortunately, interest has already waned. As a man of the people, describer of emotions, Mac Miller's latest project is arguably his best since Watching Movies. However, it lacks an identifiable artistic flair by basking in forlorn Soul that's overtly smothered in beauteous croons and chimeric facades. Good but ultimately fading.

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