Mac Miller - Swimming
Pittsburgh’s own has progressed artistically in a way few would have guessed when he came on the scene with a brand of high school party pop-rap back in 2009. Almost 10 years later, Mac Miller is a Flying Lotus disciple, recorded a live album with The Internet and has a track with Kendrick Lamar. He occupies a corner of the rap market that includes friend Earl Sweatshirt and J Cole: dark, atmospheric beats that straddle trap and hip-hop, with laid-back raps and a compositional freedom to dip into singing and even RnB at will.
His newest record, Swimming, is an exercise in heady introspection, isolation, and the air of comfortable wealth. This is a pop-culture figure grown up, past the A-list relationship and resting from the rat race needed to make it in this industry. When he sings “sunshine don’t feel right/ when you’re inside all day” on opening track “Come Back To Earth”, it’s easy to picture an eccentric and secluded figure like the late Howard Hughes holed up with agoraphobia in a home theater ( 2013’s Watching Movies With The Sound Off suddenly takes on a darker interpretation).
And while the concept of his career and the record’s place are deserving of praise (after all, Asher Roth never created art like Mac’s) the actual listening experience of Swimming doesn’t entirely stand up to scrutiny. Following the lush, pretty, “Come Back To Earth” and the J Cole produced moody banger “Hurt Feelings”, things fall apart real quick.
“What’s The Use” is an Anderson .Paak style dance groove that doesn’t play to Miller’s vocal limitations, but rather highlights those limitations. The same occurs later on the album with “2009”, although he succeeds with this .Paak interpretation over a gentler keyboard carried slow-burner and a tasteful lack of high notes.
The general problem with this record doesn’t lie in a single song or several moments, it’s the overall energy that brings it down: Swimming is the musical equivalent of a long sigh. This feeling permeates the whole project, whether it’s the riding guitar ballad of “Small Worlds” or the Wilco level sober folk of “Wings”, you find the same tired, depressed lethargy almost completely devoid of the confidence and blood flow that made Miller a star. Yes, the outro of “Perfecto” and it’s suspenseful and lyrical segue into the absolute vibe of “Self Care” is wonderful (so is it’s Tarantino inspired music video), but is it enough to prop up this hour-long yawn?
Miller would be far from the first talented artist to trade in a youthful intensity for something more subdued, but where his admitted idol Connor Oberst transitioned from the heart pouring emo of Fevers And Mirrors to the lonely New York walk of I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and critical acclaim, Miller has only achieved a slow blow of marijuana smoke; airy and occasionally beautiful to look at with little staying power.