Mac Miller has always been one of my favorite artists. Fresh in my mind is the excitement I had when he released what turned out to be his final album, “Swimming,” wondering about the potential he had for growth as a musician. Tragically, just over a month after the album’s release date, Miller would die at the age of 26, victim to a drug overdose. His recreational use of drugs often came up in his songs. His music often dealt with difficult subject matters, which is what was so appealing about Miller. His sheer emotional honesty was refreshing, and his music evolved with his maturity. His first, and only posthumous album, “Circles,” is a benchmark for respectability — it’s a posthumous album that doesn’t exploit a dead artist’s unfinished music just for quick cash. As such, it served as the perfect send-off for Miller’s legacy — that was until “Faces” was re-released for streaming services.
Miller was 22 when he released “Faces.” The mixtape, released for free online in 2014, is dense: 24 songs and over 85 minutes. Despite the mixtape’s length, it never seems to drag. Many fans of Miller’s music consider it to be his magnum opus, but until this year, it remained largely inaccessible to many. The work officially existed only on free mixtape download websites, such as DatPiff, and through unofficial reuploads on YouTube. In a music landscape so heavily centered around Spotify and Apple Music, this essentially meant that the mixtape did not exist to a large number of people. This changed this year, however, when Miller’s estate announced that “Faces” would be re-released for streaming services. Since it’s now much more accessible, there’s never been a more perfect time to revisit “Faces.” Despite being labeled a “mixtape” rather than an “album,” what you’ll find when you listen to it is a complex and poignant body of work worthy of tremendous respect.
“Inside Outside” starts out the mixtape strongly. The first words muttered by Miller on this track are “I shoulda died already.” As you keep listening, you quickly begin to understand one of the major subject matters the album deals with — the way that drug use distorts your perception of reality and yourself. He largely presents himself on this mixtape as depressed, apathetic and melancholic. He revisits the theme on “Angel Dust,” wherein Miller makes the admission that his brain is fried “chasing the same high,” and as a result, he relies on a higher dosage to feel its effects. He raps about waking up on pavements and spending paychecks on cocaine He continues with “What are you afraid of? It's just a little angel dust,” culminating in a potent commentary of the spiral of drug use.
Later, on “Polo Jeans,” both Miller and fellow rapper Earl Sweatshirt take turns describing their lifestyles of drug use. Miller’s verse opens up with a description of a drug overdose, whereas Earl talks about smoking weed as a means to cope with depression. It was around this time when listening to the mixtape that I realized how morbid, if not prescient, it was. Miller paints a truly terrifying picture of drug use, and yet a new listener has added context to the circumstances of his death. You understand, while listening to these songs, that this album is Miller at a low point in his life, and listening to it is truly heartbreaking — even the songs that don’t deal with drug use deal instead with other facets of depression.
One of my favorite songs off the mixtape is “Happy Birthday.” Aside from me making it a tradition to listen to this song every year on my birthday, the song also serves as a narrative based on a true story. In it, Miller describes a birthday party held for him where he didn’t know half the people who showed up, and he suspected that most people at the party were there simply to party, rather than celebrate Miller. As such, he spends the entire party away from other people, locked in the studio working. One can read this song as Miller’s disillusionment with fame, or even as an account of him preemptively isolating himself from people because he doesn’t want to deal with social interaction. I tend to think it’s the latter because the second verse documents an exchange he has with someone in attendance at the party. It begins with pleasantries, but it quickly evolves into Miller essentially begging the other person for help, stating that he feels “getting high [is his] downfall.” The song encapsulates what the entirety of “Faces” is about — how drugs warp your sense of reality and compel you towards isolation.
The instrumentals for this mixtape are also beautiful. Miller had always incorporated jazz and psychedelic beats to his music in an interesting way, however, I find myself coming back to some of the more simple beats the most. On top of the looping beat of “Rain,” both Miller and Vince Staples flow effortlessly. Vince in particular shines in the track with ruthless lyrics. The beat for “Thumbalina” genuinely reminds me of the Skate 3 soundtrack; I find myself revisiting it and its catchy beat whenever I want to get work done.
The re-release also came with a never-before-released bonus track “Yeah,” a definite contender for my song of the year, hasMillerc singing about his fears of death: “When will we die? / This life isn't fair / I miss the high / I live a lie.” He also goes on to sing “one day we’ll die, and no one will care,” which absolutely breaks my heart. Sonically, the song builds in its instrumentation, reaching an absolute pinnacle in its chorus. It’s incredibly difficult to believe that this was merely a bonus track because it’s impossible not to get emotional while listening. While it is thematically consistent with the rest of “Faces,” it feels more sonically resonant.
Overall, “Faces” holds up incredibly in its re-release. This reissue was the most respectful way to celebrate Miller’s legacy. I would much rather that his estate re-releases mixtapes for streaming services than dig up unfinished samples for unnecessary posthumous albums. This album is prescient, yet it also serves as a fantastic introduction to Miller’s music — so now that it’s on streaming services, it’s a great time to revisit “Faces.”
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