In 2011, Mac Miller was breaking records. After releasing a handful of critically and commercially beloved mixtapes, he dropped his debut album ‘Blue Slide Park’, which became the first independently-distributed debut album to top the Billboard charts since 1995, and spawned a string of outrageously catchy bops (including blistering ‘Frick Park Market’). After that came several more albums and another flurry of mixtapes. As Miller built up his discography, though listeners seemed to drop off.’Blue Slide Park’ went gold in the US, but none of the three records that followed could equal that accolade.
Now, after several months of headlines that focussed purely on his breakup with Ariana Grande and the DUI arrest that came shortly after, musically, Miller needed to get back into his groove. Luckily, his fifth record does just that; ‘Swimming’ is his best work in years.
Opening with the lilting ‘Come Back To Earth’, Miller dives straight into a bold new sonic stratosphere. All gorgeous layered vocals accompanied by trickling piano lines and gauzy synthesised sounds, it’s a world away from the frat rap of his earliest releases. Instead it borrows from the shimmering instrumentals of his previous record, combining them with trippy beats. This new sound is pushed even further in the following track ‘Hurt Feelings’, a brutally honest response to the controversy surrounding the rapper over the past months. “I’m always saying I won’t change, but I ain’t the same / Everything is different, I can’t complain” he lackadaisically raps over sultry beats and restrained backing vocals. It’s reserved and relaxed.
- Mac Miller’s ‘What’s The Use’ is on the NME Audio playlist. Click here for information on how to tune in to NME1 and NME2
Yes, the album sometimes merely ambles. The sluggish ‘Small Worlds’ drags on and ‘Wings’ is a sleepy, stumbling block midway through the album. But Miller also soars here. ‘What’s the Use’ is a funk infused banger, and the string laden ‘2009’ is a triumph. And then there’s ‘Ladders’, a buoyant radio ready bop, which sees his bars skitter across glorious brass lines and earworm riffs.
‘Swimming’ isn’t what you would have expected from Miller when he first started dropping mixtapes over a decade ago, but that doesn’t matter. This album shows his growth as both an artist, and as aa person who’s had to deal with the most private aspects of their life being publicly dissected. It’s a stellar – if somewhat overlong – artistic statement.