Never in my life have I ever watched a movie with the sound off but if the experience is anything like the level of the creativity and passion evident on Mac Miller’s sophomore album — I might hit the mute button next time I’m watching Bulworth.
Following his commercially successful but critically lukewarm 2011 debut album Blue Slide Park, Watching Movies with the Sound Off shows significant strides in Mac’s lyricism and beat selection. The result is a cohesive body of work that floats seamlessly from track to track with a head-bopping psychedelic vibe that runs all the way through.
On the opening track “The Star Room,” Mac tackles the typical second album subject matter about struggles with newfound fame and staying true to his sound but it’s the eerie guitar strings and Earl Sweatshirt production that really set a darker but certainly more inspired tone for the project as a whole.
“Avian” playfully bounces on an almost carnival-style beat that never takes itself too seriously as Mac half-jokingly drops some philosophy on the hook when he raps “There’s a bird in the sky / Look at him fly / Why?” The Flying Lotus-produced “S.D.S.” has Madvillain written all over it but Mac manages to utilize his own humourous style instead of attempting to emulate MF DOOM with lines like “I can’t figure out life and feel right, right now / Boo, if I think it, I should say it, there’s a reason that I write it down / Spit the shit that leave a diaper brown, poo.”
Mac flexes his gritty side on “Red Dot Music” with Action Bronson which is complimented by a grimy boom bap beat done by The Alchemist. Sonically, the song sounds like something the Wu-Tang Clan or Mobb Deep would jump on but the fact that it’s performed by two white rappers just goes to show how much hip hop has evolved as an inclusive musical genre with an influence far beyond the housing projects of New York City.
The real surprise of the album comes on the track “Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes,” a song where Mac recruits the elusive Jay Electronica to appear on a verse that stays true to the enigmatic rapper’s intricate style. Truth be told, Mac’s verse is overshadowed by Electronica’s appearance and it’s the only time on the album where he isn’t able to exchange bars on the level of his guest.
But come on, it’s Jay Electronica.
Interestingly, just after the Electronica feature, Mac delivers his most devastating lyrical assault on “REMember.” The song is a tribute to his friend Reuben Eli Mitrani who died of a brain hemorrhage last September. Bearing his emotions over a dreamlike beat that slowly slips into an endless nightmare, it’s the closest Mac ever comes to completely breaking down especially when rapping lines like “This life move fast, I never knew that / Yours wouldn’t have lasted / The dirt hitting your casket, like raindrops / I swear I’ll let you know when the pain stop / For now I need to run to any place the train stops.”
Watching Movies with the Sound Off is a noticeably darker album than his debut which covers all aspects of Mac’s psyche and not just the charismatic goofball fans fell in love with on Blue Slide Park with its almost stream-of-consciousness, or perhaps unconsciousness, approach.
Boasting some brilliant production and improvements in his own rapping abilities, Watching Movies with the Sound Off is an eclectic glimpse into the mind of a young man with so many wandering thoughts that it’s almost impossible to pin down who the real Malcolm James McCormick is beneath it all — and maybe that’s the point.
Get at me on Twitter @PatCwiklinski.