Typically, when journalists ask musicians about how people perceive them, they’re met with the same boilerplate answer. Depending upon the musician, that could range from “it’s not something that particularly bothers me” to “I don’t give a f*ck.” It doesn’t matter who it is. Most musicians find the question incredibly stupid.
Although, like most human beings, they probably do care to a certain degree. And it wouldn’t be too farfetched to think that Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller probably considered this when making his sophomore album, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, because of how radically different it sounds compared to his poppy–and oftentimes critically panned–previous work like Blue Slide Park and K.I.D.S.
Now, it’d be ridiculous to suggest that WMWTSO is built specifically on the premise that Mac wanted to not only be embraced by his peers and fans but also music critics (many of whom are finally giving him kudos). As an artist, he was probably headed in this direction anyways, making an album that’s moody, whimsical and, compared to his other work, dark. But when he opens up an album with, “but me, I’m still trapped inside my head, I kinda feel like it’s a purgatory,” you know something’s going on, and listeners–both old and new alike–can cheer the artistic shift.
So WMWTSO is–if not a response to a direct question–Mac’s standing at a crossroads, wondering what the hell is happening inside his head as his fame builds. Everything falls in line behind this: weird phrases (“Hieroglyphics/Pyrotechnics/Metaphysics”) melt into earnest introspection (“Doctor, doctor, please prescribe me something for the pain”), and a who’s who of indie and budding production darlings like Earl Sweatshirt, Flying Lotus, Chuck Inglish and Clams Casino, among others, set the tone.
The album’s stand-out tracks bounce around in mood from depressing lows (“I’m Not Real”) to quirky highs (“SDS,” “Matches”), but they all assist in providing the roadmap to Mac’s conflicted brain, questioning what money actually buys to the benefits of sex when there are no feelings involved. And the progression he’s shown since his K.I.D.S. project found him rapping about skipping school shows through in both his quasi-singing and over-pronounced delivery, aiding the lovelorn “Objects In The Mirror” and expressing the absurdity within “Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes” (a rare Jay Electronica verse doesn’t hurt, either), respectfully.
Yet, for as coherent and revealing as WMWTSO is, it does suffer from being two or potentially three songs too long. This is a minor quibble, but the second half of the album after the ScHoolboy Q-assisted “Gees” but before “Aquarium” could have been trimmed, especially when the album’s so melancholy.
Again, the length isn’t a dealbreaker, and WMWTSO should be celebrated as Mac’s chapter two, a gigantic leap from college kid rebel rousing to something befitting a guy who’s been afforded fame well into his young adult years. So does Mac really care what other people think of him? Who knows. But he apparently cares about what the people around him think, which is the only thing that matters.
Label: Rostrum Records | Producers: Chuck Inglish, Clams Casino, Flying Lotus, Pharrell Williams, Larry Fisherman, Earl Sweatshirt, The Alchemist, I.D. Labs, Tyler, The Creator, Diplo, SAP, AdoTheGod, J. Hill