Was Mac Miller's Warner Bros. debut worth the wait?
During a recent interview with Larry King, Mac Miller stated that GO:OD AM -- his major label debut under Warner Bros. -- was intended to be a departure from the "darker and sad" vibes of his previous record, Watching Movies with the Sound Off.
GOD:DAMN. Mac was right on the money.
GO:OD AM is not only less melancholic and more vibrant than Mac Miller's preceding album, but also the most complete and multifaceted project he's dropped in his young career. The P-Town native makes a complete 180 from the slowed-down, psychedelic steez of Watching Movies and instead produces an upbeat and inspirational sound rooted in his struggles with drug use and depression. Miller does have some fun, carefree tracks on this record, but he also showcases a vast array of musical influences and a newfound maturity that wasn't present on his first two releases.
This grown-up version of Mac Miller is on full display on "Doors," the Tyler, The Creator-produced intro where his lavish, cathedral-reverb'd harmonies assure listeners he's "in a better place." The next track, "Brand Name," stays true to the album title, transitioning from the sound of an alarm clock to a groggy Mac Miller yawning before he rips the soulful trap number. Miller masterfully flaunts a couple of different flows on this beat, which mirrors his dynamic emceemanship with some twists of its own. (That sax at the end, though!).
After a customary Mac Miller-TDE collaboration featuring Ab-Soul ("Two Matches"), Miller then gasses on "100 Grandkids," the lead single that abruptly shifts from quirky goofball rap to Mac spitting fuego over a nasty trap banger. In what still stands as arguably the dopest track on GO:OD AM, Mac Miller jokes about his mother's longing for grandchildren and the feeling he had when his bank account hit five zeros for the first time.
Another standout track off GO:OD AM is "Full Circle / God Speed," which marks the beginning of the album's introspective homestretch. The production on this joint is extra avant-garde -- an O.K. Corral saloon piano accompanied by some lush background vocals, almost as if Ennio Morricone dipped the song in Spaghetti Western sauce. Mac Miller seamlessly plays the role of high plains drifter, in which he pulls off what could be the best Western-themed hip hop effort since Bone Thugs' "Ghetto Cowboy."
Of course, this is merely the "Full Circle" portion of track 11; "God Speed" features a more soulful instrumental, marinated by a flurry of emotional rhymes. The juxtaposition of the two contradictory deliveries and differing concepts is a clever mashup.
GO:OD AM's final chunk of tracks reverts back to the introduction, as Miller further elaborates on his vices and growth as an artist and human being. "Ascension" documents his rise from the pitfalls of the rap game. Mac asks and answers a poignant question during the song's impassioned chorus:
"What's between Heaven and Hell? / A brand new me"
He follows this ascension with the appropriately named "Jump," the project's penultimate song that fluctuates between spacey trap and up-tempo EDM. Now that he's reached the edge of his wildest dreams, Mac is ready to jump; but it's a leap of faith, not an apathetic plummet to rock bottom. "Jump"'s heavy subject matter and pulsating sound would have made for an epic crescendo, but instead "The Festival" closes out the album. Unfortunately, "The Festival" is quite underwhelming, though the Little Dragon feature is an interesting touch.
Overall, GO:OD AM is well-put-together and surely an upgrade from Watching Movies with the Sound Off and Blue Slide Park. That's not to say those projects weren't solid in their own right; but Mac Miller exhibits a control and consistency here that exemplifies his devotion to his craft. One downer -- other than the ho-hum finale -- is the inclusion of 2-3 party anthems that come out of nowhere and disrupt the album's momentum. Did Warner Bros. throw these in to attract mainstream appeal? Did Miller want to show he can still flex with the best of 'em? Either way, GO:OD AM is dope enough without the extra braggadocio bars piled on top.
Mac Miller does exceed expectations by opting to go a different route on "Weekend" and "ROS" -- two tracks where 2015-Mac's more polished and layered songwriting ability takes over. Instead of turning the former into mindless frat boy fodder and the latter into the proverbial twerk fest, he puts a fresh spin on both. The Donnie Trumpet-y horns and his chemistry with Miguel on "Weekend" are flawless; and the luscious vocals, crispy snares and cathartic opening piano keys on "ROS" deliver all kinds of crazy feels.
These two songs are microcosmic of the little details and visionary creative direction that make GO:OD AM a scrumptious addition to the Mac Miller catalog. Even after signing to WB, it's pleasing to see his creativity and mojo are well intact.