It's fitting that Mac Miller hosted a listening event for his forthcoming album, "Watching Movies with the Sound Off," at New York City's IFC Center yesterday (June 12).
The album, which drops on June 18, contrasts from Miller's debut release, "Blue Slide Park." On the latter he came off as a frat-rap bro, his underdeveloped flows overshadowed by phenomenal production. However, "Watching Movies with the Sound Off" shows Miller searching for enlightenment and piecing together narratives that indicate a progression toward maturity as an artist and a person.
As guests seated themselves in front of a large movie screen on the IFC Center's second floor, Miller made his way to the front of the room. He only shared a few words before putting on the album and its accompanying movie. He joked about being in competition with Kanye West's upcoming album, "Yeezus": "The competition with Kanye [West] is crazy right now, but it's really not a competition cause he's Yeezus."
He thanked everyone for attending the event, and politely requested that we put our phone on vibrate.
The lights dimmed and album opener, "The Star Room," began to play. Flashes of the ocean and a group of turtles appeared on the screen, as minor key melodies boomed through the speakers. "We all gon' end up meeting at the finishing line," Miller rhymed. The song's final line was accompanied by a visual of a lone, baby turtle swimming deep into the ocean. It sets the tone for the rest of the album: sullen, searching and serious.
Miller's most introspective moments are telling. He raps about possible fatherhood ("I'm Not Real"), excess, success and its consequences ("Red Dot Music"), and a close childhood friend who died young ("REMember Music").
Even the album's most upbeat moments (Flying Lotus-produced "S.D.S." and "Bird Call") are troubled; Miller's delivery embodying the insecurities that have come with his success.
Guest verses come and go, similar to the other sea creatures that the turtle (Mac Miller) encounters on its journey. Earl (the seahorse) provides a low-pitched hook on "I'm Not Real." Action Bronson (the basking shark) brags about taking his friends out for octopus on "Red Dot Music." And Jay Electronica (the sperm whale) somehow manages to reference "Cinderella," "The Wizard of Oz" and pieces of the "Bible," in "Suplexes Inside of Complexes & Duplexes."
Where Miller has often been the overshadowed one, he manages to hold his own against both talented producers (Pharrell Williams, Flying Lotus and Chuck Inglish) and rappers, alike.
Once album-ender "Youforia" finished, the lights came back on and the screen went black; leaving the turtle's fate up to interpretation. Miller stood up, went through the album's bonus tracks. "O.K." will surely be a crowd favorite, if anything for Tyler, the Creator's hook. After previewing the three "Watching Movies With the Sound Off" bonus tracks ("Goosebumpz," "O.K.," and "Claymation"), he thanked everyone once again for coming out.
What began as an EP turned into a fleshed out and enjoyable LP. "Watching Movies with the Sound Off" is easy to vibe to, and shows that Miller can make some thoughtful and engaging material. He's still a joker, but he's growing up: the curious turtle looking for answers and having fun along the way.