“It's a long drive back to earth / Wonder where my happy days fade away” —Mac Miller, “Smile”
Mac Miller often spoke in tongues. His producer alter ego, Larry Fisherman, often transcended language. Speaking to us from a Beyond through samples and waveforms, Larry’s solo production was far more concerned with the unspoken and the festering than it was open lines of communication. The work of Larry Fisherman is predicated upon the task of diving into the psyche, finding the grimiest sewer lid, and cracking it open to reveal all manner of industrial sludge. Under the lid, we find that everything is wrought and rusted, that all movement happens with a start and a scream.
Larry Fisherman is thrilled by this. He throws down a bright plastic folding chair and fishes out our most disquiet thoughts. Then he serves them up to us in one neat package, aptly named Run-On Sentences, Volume Two.
The intersection of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts reeks of paranoia and delusion. So the warped, poignant, primordial, and demented stylings of 2015’s Run-On Sentences, Volume Two fit right in. In the context of Mac’s discography, no project is as direct a representation of an acute panic attack as Volume Two. The 28-minute tape begins with a moment of intense splitting as if something greater than us is gnashing on what makes us human, only to spit it out by project’s end. Volume Two immediately puts you through the wringer with the opening sample on “Fuckin Shit” flicking at our tender nerves.
“There are statements I made, and when I believed people would listen to me, at least as regards to certain things which are important for us all, but now it makes no difference,” croaks the voice of a weather-worn man. Consider these the final thoughts before a purebred panic attack, the staple sense of worthlessness that can be so punishing. Alien production soon takes hold and we all but careen into a hallucinogenic state. The scenery sounds as if it is melting away. First the paint congeals and slips from the walls, then the support beams, then the floor dissolves, and then our skin slinks from our bones. By the end of “Fuckin Shit,” we are bitingly bare.
Then begins the endless tumbling. Free of externalities and tangible distractions, Volume Two condemns us to a place where we must face our ingrown anxieties. Mac Miller presents a challenge with this beat tape. As in, he challenges us to both endure the music, the rattling thoughts, and the shifty body high that comes with every listen. To this end, Mac does not simply hold up a mirror with his production, he hucks us into a pit of shattered glass. Choice is siphoned off and replaced with a bed of harsh angles. Everything we wish to neither see nor feel cannot be lopped off; everything unsightly is in view. At once clobbering and seamless, the tape quite literally runs away with our good sense, overpowering us in the best way.
An emotive netting, the production continues melting and folding into itself. The cantankerous “jjjoh” dilutes into the offbeat and childlike thump of “Hulu.” Call it the sonic personification of regression, or call it the steely moment of lucidity before the panic overruns the body once more. Per the name, we might assume that Volume Two is meandering, and certainly, we meander into a hellscape of our collective unconscious making. But do not confuse meandering with purposeless. Mac Miller, Larry Fisherman, what have you, is equal parts obsessive and intentional. The rash highs and lows of the project are enough to communicate as much.
As anxiety agitates our grip on reality, Run-On Sentences, Volume Two agitates our senses. Much of the music should not, had it been arranged by a less deft hand, elicit nuanced emotional responses. Discomfort is a feature of the work, but the work never trends incomplete. To be startled is not to go unsatisfied, and in that way, Volume Two does not use its form as the expulsion of critical appraisal. In a literary sense, the tape is ever so modernist, wherein the great critique of the genre is it reads like the byproduct of throwing a typewriter down the stairs. Of course, free jazz is often maligned as the aftermath of tripping over all of the instruments, and here Mac Miller can be described as punching his MIDI controller and sending it to print. Except that line of thinking is dismissive and absurd.
And so our disquiet thoughts begin their second renaissance unabated. “Atom Bomb” captures a moment of total isolation that unfolds into a brief revival. The signal comes back, so to say. The voices return as well, though they are terminal (“I caught a fatal disease”) and do little to comfort us. Coming to from yet another grand unraveling moves in these distrustful waves. Every gasp of air is questioned, every peaceful second interrogated. Entering its second half with the sunrise tones of “HXH,” Volume Two becomes an examination of peace and permanence. Can we really be, and stay, content? Mac forces us to press on and find out.
The second half of Volume Two is decidedly more oppressive and labored than the first. Disjointed, geometric motifs fall away in favor of machine-strung chords and damp percussion. By “Here is a Bear,” we are enrapt in the sheer exhaustion of feeling so much so quickly without reprieve. All notion of time and tempo has left the tape, replaced by stuttered and cube-ish, battering us back to attention. These are not the same cacophonous sounds that signified a panic, but they are the dribbling and coalesced emotions (“FACEBUSH”) that come once the dust has settled. This is what it sounds like to be bruised and trying to get your shit together.
Volume Two closes with what seems to be our grand reprogramming. “Best For Last” sounds like the inside of an industrial yard, like the belly of a serious repair job where we are the subject being hammered into a new life. We end where we began, with the opening sample of “Fuckin Shit” being invoked to note the journey complete. Fleeting conversations about God and the voice of the late Stephen Hawking, against robotic and sterile soundscapes, imply we lost some part of ourselves. Perhaps we have become ever more desensitized to the feeling of emotional upheaval. Perhaps this is business as usual for us, now.
Closing track “Smile” provides few answers but does give us a firm setting. As Mac Miller’s wounded singing voice graces the song and serenades his misunderstood thoughts, we note that Run-On Sentences, Volume Two was a tour through the slums of a panic attack. It was purposeful from tip to tail. Now we find ourselves aligned with Mac, both strung out and contemplative. Thoughts of suicide rushing past, along with a plea for normalcy.
As Mac bemoans “This gravity won't let me go” a warring duality overtakes the track and the tape. There is the gravity of pain and the literal gravity signifying we are still alive. At once, we are fiending to live and fiending to die. With that, Volume Two ends with a simple prayer: “Can you let me go?” As in, what would it take to simply be?
Sadly, the most precious questions go unanswered.