Review Summary: Well-crafted lyricism and cinematic production make for a great summer hip-hop record.
An interesting phenomenon in the world of hip-hop music is the seeming obsessiveness with feature films. If your album retains a "cinematic" feel, it will most likely be regarded as a quality product by critics everywhere. "American Gangster", "Good Kid M.A.A.D. City," "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," "WOLF", "Long.Live.ASAP," "Indicud," and many others are examples of records that have successfully attempted a cohesive movie-like narrative and aesthetic are prime examples. It seems the future of hip-hop is not the concept album, but the album that could be easily adapted into an actual film. Mac Miller's follow-up to "Blue Slide Park" and "Macadelic" is titled in a manner that reveals the logic behind its construction. "Watching Movies With The Sound Off," in the words of Miller himself, was entirely produced and created in the studio while muted eighties movies and nature documentaries were playing to assist in building its unique structure. The question is, do the lyrics, rapping and production maintain this promise of being as tight as a well-written and directed blockbuster? Miller has not only expertly crafted his best project yet, but the movies playing in the studio certainly helped it attain that level of success.
Watching Movies With The Sound Off displays Miller's remarkable entry into lyricism. The features, including Jay Electronica, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt, Action Bronson, and Tyler the Creator shows that he intends to display more than just empty bars over nice sounding beats. And they expect more from him. Not only is the flow incredible on this album compared to Miller's previous work, but he's more than capable of not looking like a prick when his album is shelved next to J. Cole and Kanye on the eighteenth. Yes, he's not as powerful in his rapping compared to Yeezus Christ and "that one guy who made Work Out", but Miller is definitely portraying himself as a seasoned veteran. And it works. The only peculiar standout of this otherwise fantastic rap record is "Objects in the Mirror", which is almost entirely Miller singing. It's obvious Mac is trying to let his emotions bleed into the middle of the album, but it feels like he's out of his comfort zone. And that's the entire record. Miller is putting himself out of his comfort zone, and one could say that's "Watching Movies With The Sound Off's" greatest strength. Miller is trying everything, and showing he's capable of anything.
The production on the record is insane. Not in a highly opulent, "Cruel Summer-esque" epic format, but like a blend between Live.Love.A$AP and Channel Orange. It's a typically relaxing, low-fidelity, non-threatening sound. There are many super-producers present on the album, but "Watching Movies" never feels anything close to recent attempts at radio airplay created by the likes of Hit-Boy and Young Chop. This is a sound designed to accompany beautiful visuals one creates in their own mind, with the listeners life or imagination. Or, one could probably just smoke a blunt or two, which is probably what Miller and company did before starting to conceptualize what kind of beats would be present on the record. Although some listeners might be turned off by the music being different from Miller's previous hits such as "Donald Trump", others who might not initially have been fans of his work may decide to purchase the CD after listening to the singles. I would recommend picking up "Watching Movies" if you enjoy a generally chill and smooth aesthetic in your hip-hop.
To conclude, "Watching Movies With The Sound Off" is a considerably enjoyable record, with no distinct flaws that would make it not worth purchasing. Watching muted movies in the studios has obviously had an impact on the way this album is constructed. There's a very powerful sound-scape lurking beneath the generally chill and relaxed outer layer, painting images in the minds of the listeners if they take the time to absorb Miller's great lyrics and unique low-fidelity effects. And it's obviously been influenced by movies and films. Miller in his track "Watching Movies" likens us looking at his life like "watching movies". As is clearly evident by modern records in the '10s era is that any album influenced by cinema is the better for it. It's definitely superior to those in the ilk of simply throwing random tracks that sound good for the radio, putting them on a CD and calling it an album. But Miller's beyond that.