Mac Miller returned on Aug. 3rd with his fifth studio album, Swimming, in the wake of his heavily media-scrutinized breakup with Ariana Grande. Given that breakup and his recent DUI, expectations were that this album would be a depressed and chaotic work in the vein of his 2014 mixtape Faces — however, what we’ve received instead is a phlegmatic piece of protracted contemplation, more thoughtful than despondent.
Swimming feels like the companion piece to his most recent album The Divine Feminine, a continuation of the jazz-influenced sound but with a polar opposite thematic message. The Divine Feminine was a record of love and optimism; Swimming is lonesome (but not lonely) and reflective — a world-weary expression of self-acceptance. For better or for worse, the album tends to blur together due to instrumental sameness. Some would call this cohesiveness, some would call it a lack of variety; lean toward the latter. The addition of “Programs” could have lessened this sense of repetition, different enough to provide a change of pace but similar enough to not be a jarring inclusion.
It wasn’t much of a challenge to improve upon the lyricism of The Divine Feminine, which was a concept album about Mac eating out his girlfriend. To be fair, if I were having sex with Ariana Grande, I’d probably never stop bragging about it either. He managed to step it up on Swimming, and now that the two are no longer together, Mac is forced to explore themes more varied than Ariana Grande’s vagina, including issues such as isolation, helplessness and the long-term impact of fame. However, despite discussing more serious topics, the album never sinks into darkness or pessimism. “It ain’t perfect but I don’t mind” Mac sighs/moans/sings on “Perfecto,” a line which sums up his overarching philosophy on Swimming pretty well: The way to deal with life’s problems is to go with the flow, the lyrical equivalent of shrugging one’s shoulders.
The standouts on the album are “Self-Care,” “Ladders,” “What’s the Use?” and “2009.” “Self-Care” is full of airy ambience and a well-executed beat switch. “Ladders” and “What’s the Use?” are bouncy funk jams that are solidly in the pocket, and “2009” contains beautiful orchestration (courtesy of Jon Brion) as well as some of Mac’s more thoughtful lyrics as he reflects on his past.
One of the weaker cuts is “Conversation Pt. 1,” a worse version of “I Am Who I Am (Killing Time),” the vocals and instrumental both dreadfully boring (surprising, given that Flying Lotus is credited with production on the track). The only moment of dynamism on the track is a lame trumpet part tacked on the end that sounds like a Miles Davis impersonator on a high dose of lithium.
Given both how long Mac has been around and how many projects he has released, it’s hard to believe that he’s only 26 years old (younger than Kanye West was when he released The College Dropout!). In spite of his young age, Swimming feels like the reflective conclusion to a lengthy career. Because Mac started so young, his late-game coincides with an age at which he begins to ripen on the vine (in direct contrast with Kanye, whose denouncement thus far has consisted of becoming a sundowning Boomer whose Twitter is one step removed from shit like “live, laugh, love” and Minion memes). While Swimming isn’t a perfect record, and will likely be considered inconsequential in relation to Mac’s other post-Blue Slide Park discography, it’s a good, if not incredible, album with some standout cuts.