On the back of the soulful and romantic The Divine Feminine, Mac Miller has returned with another album cut from this cloth.
Swimming is similar in style, but more mournful and self-reflective than romantic and starry-eyed, with welcome introspection from Mac, reminiscent of his earlier rap-oriented projects like Watching Movies With The Sound Off and Faces. Following his split with Ariana Grande, fans were expecting a darker and more remorseful tone from Mac, but his approach in unpacking his problems on Swimming is infinitely more constructive, and shows an exceptional level of artistic maturity and growth.
This became evident with the release of the single and video for “Self Care”, a moody but triumphant song exploring what it means to look after oneself, and how difficult the process is. Mac is growing to take greater responsibility for the issues he explores in his music, as opposed to falling down holes of escapism – reflected in the druggy and sedated overtones of previous work. Showing obvious progression comes through in this inescapable feeling of achievement that is interwoven with the other central themes of the album – there is triumph, remorse, and reflection all at play, and Mac’s ability to provide a rounded and clear-eyed exploration of them all speaks to his artistic capabilities in producing a cohesive and well structured project.
Despite the hardships, the album as a whole leaves listeners with a positive outlook, a light at the end of a tunnel of sorts. This is arguably also accentuated by the styling of the album – smooth instrumentation, drawn out lyrical delivery, and some more upbeat shifts and changes (“Ladders” is a beautiful example of a mood shift) to keep the style fresh without departing too far from the album. The album has a specific style or aesthetic that the songs all seem to fit within – but there’s enough variation and uniqueness throughout to stop claims of repetition or a lack of variation.
“Wings” feels inverse to the style of a lot of the rest of the album, with a simple drum beat and some dispersed synths acting as the backdrop for Mac’s more melodic approach to the song. But the dreamy quality that this sparse song exhibits feels like a necessary balance for the brighter songs and moments throughout Swimming.
“Small Worlds” is another standout song – originally released along with his “Buttons” and “Programs” loose teaser singles. The simple refrain of ‘the world is so small until it ain’t’ is a short, almost innocent quip that is quite significant in the grand scheme of the album. It’s a simple iteration of what is at the core of the problems Mac is so rapidly attempting to unpack on this project. Isolation, and the feeling of such a large shift both underpin the darker elements of the album, but when it’s delivered over such quirky synths in Mac’s boyish cadence, it almost sounds beautiful. That inertia between positive and negative is what I believe falls to the centre of this album – progressing despite struggling, learning while still making mistakes – Mac is still in the process of this development and change, but Swimming acts as a sounding board for his attempts at coping and moving forwards.
The tracks don’t outstay their welcome, the whole project weighing in at just under an hour. But this is much more long-form than previous Mac Miller work, allowing greater space for instrumentals to build and twitch, and to allow vocal refrains time to fully develop and then transition. There is a great level of artistic focus shown with regards to the track listing, with a relatively cohesive shift from song to song, helping the project sound great as a whole.
Overall, this is the most mature Mac Miller project yet – the skill in dealing with both the positive and the negative in such a clean style of writing makes the album not only an easy listen, but also communicates a lot of the significance of the themes in an easily digestible and accessible manner. Mac Miller isn’t out of the woods yet, but this album is symbolic of some growth and development as an artist, and as a person.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Swimming is available now.