I’ve always had somewhat of a mild fascination with Mac Miller. I’m not entirely sure what about him consistently garners my attention. Perhaps it’s because he reminds me of that guy we all know, the funny one who could always make you laugh and always seemed to radiate this energetic happiness. However, his music doesn’t always seem to reflect this demeanor of his, with the exception being GO:OD AM and Blue Slide Park. Albums like Watching Movies With the Sound Off and The Divine Feminine attempt to show different sides of Mac, be it a darker or sweeter one. The problem is that neither of these albums have been able to evade that trademark Mac Miller goofiness. On Swimming, that goofiness seems to have evaporated, and rather than improving the album, it only seems to have left behind an eroded and underperforming Mac Miller.
Before even discussing Mac’s underwhelming work here, it seems necessary to discuss an odd trait of the production. As of a year ago, a trend began to take hold on Youtube where various channels began to hold “LoFi Hip Hop” radio stations. The stations commonly had a gif behind which simple, dreamy beats played in order to serve as a kind of ambient music. A few of the beats on Swimming, particularly “Dunno,” “Hurt Feelings,” and “Perfecto,” seem to fit into that genre. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, a problem seems to occasionally arise from the fact that these beats are meant to be background music. They make Mac’s vocals sound intrusive and the beats seem too lofi for him. It feels awkward, though its clear he’s attempting to utilize this production in order to create a more somber mood.
That out of the way, it’s time to address the big problem on this album: Mac Miller’s singing. He seems to be trying that Kid Cudi formula for singing poorly but still sounding bearable, but it isn’t working. In fact, many of these songs sound like we’re listening to Mac sing in the shower. Namely, “What’s the Use?” hits this nail on the head. It sound like a suburban dad singing to embarrass his teenage daughter. The instrumental also seems out of place on this album and for Mac in general. I feel like he bothered Anderson .Paak for this until he said “Fine,” and made him something quickly.
Swimming seems to be Mac’s journey into a kind of inner peace, but the album is such a mess that it’s achievements for him are only personal and not professional. “2009” is the embodiment of this. That song’s lyrics portray Mac as letting go of his evils and accepting tranquility, but his vocals are possibly the worst of this year. The auto tune makes it sound like his voice is cracking, which may have been intended to show rawness, but which only comes of as low quality. When he attempts to reach his upper register, he sounds like an overly sweaty and overexerted Kermit the frog. I’m happy for him and the happiness he express here, but he makes it so hard to listen to.
Pigeonholing an artist is never a fun thing to do. It discourages experimentation and keeps artist trapped in an endless cycle of the same, increasingly boring sound. But Mac Miller needs to recognize what he’s good at. He makes fairly good, fun pop-rap. There’s no point in him making music like that of Swimming, because he just doesn’t seem to have the skill set to be a lo-fi R&B singer. The lack of features – the attempt to bear the endeavor all by himself – leaves him alone, like a child doing a solo at the elementary school choir concert. Hopefully, with Swimming, he’s gotten this out of his system.