[REVIEW] Mac Miller Dives into Depression and Surfaces Self-Aware In ‘Swimming’

Drenched in airy production, Mac Miller’s “Swimming” transitions being submerged in depressive behaviors to being refreshingly self-aware.

The entirety of the record is cathartic. Whereas Miller’s delivery is often delivered in neutral tone, the production is slow and contemplative. Master sequencing occurs throughout the entirety of “Swimming” as each song pours into the next seamlessly. Self-acceptance and humility are the album’s motifs, as made clear from the opening track “Come Back to Earth.” “And I was drowning but now I’m swimming through stressful waters to relief” says Miller on the intro.

On “Wings” Miller warns of the dangers of excess while proclaiming his newfound relationship with temperance and self-acceptance. The beat on “Wings” is sparse despite being composed of various instruments. A bass guitar loops endlessly as a violin croons in intervals accompanied by subtly mixed sounds of radio tuning frequencies and a single-layered drum pattern at 60 BPM. Miller’s delivery is flat, varying only with layered vocals on the hook. The song’s ambiance isn’t typical of one revolving around personal triumph as the mood is anything but celebratory. “Wings” is a realistic depiction of making out of the other side of the tunnel. Miller’s performance feels fatigued but optimistic for a future of deserved happiness.

Thankfully, he is not forced to wait long as the following song “Ladders” features fast-paced, jovial jazz-inspired instrumentation. The outro of the song, at almost a minute long, celebrates itself in its purest form. Horns persistently blare, piercing through the addicting marriage between a groovy bass pattern and formulaic claps. At the midpoint of the album, the instrumentation on “Ladders” signals an important checkpoint on the road to self-discovery, one that empowers Miller with confidence throughout the rest of the project.

The conversation surrounding this album before its release focused on two low points which Miller faced in the months before its release: a May 2018 hit-and-run incident fueled by alcohol and a famous breakup with ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande. References to the former happen throughout the project cryptically, whereas the latter is found explicitly on the song “Dunno”. “Until, until, there is no longer, let’s get lost inside the clouds,” begs Miller of his former lover.

The practice of self-love isn’t attained easily, especially after the end of a relationship as Miller points out. His journey began as a troubled and naïve budding rap star, eventually falling victim to the pitfalls of money, fame and addiction – a common theme among musicians propelled into the spotlight.

Chronicled in the album’s apex track “2009” is Miller’s redemption. A beautifully soft piano melody accompanies lighthearted violins to introduce a feeling of nostalgia at the track’s beginning. “But I don’t need to lie no more,” says Miller of his peace. “Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and easy my mind.”

“2009” is Miller’s most mature and poignant song to date. He has learned a lot since the moments before his breakout mixtape K.I.D.S and is actively using his experiences to inspire others. Once labeled a “frat rapper” equipped with gimmicky beats and immature lyrical content, Miller has undergone various artistic transformations since the year 2009. This project is the first iteration of Miller reflecting on the actions and decisions that earned him the initial reputation.

“Swimming” subtly documents various experiences of success and turmoil since the early days of Miller’s career and mixes them to the point where they are indistinguishable. The main takeaway from those moments is that they helped Miller to meet self-realization. With this newfound sense of security, he is able to implore others to undergo a similar journey of reflection through his music. “Weight of the world, I gotta carry my own,” says Miller. “With these songs I can carry you home. I’m right here when you’re scared and alone”

Using his experiences to actualize self-acceptance, Miller’s message to listeners is simple, “You gotta jump in to swim.”