There is a thin line between being versatile and inconsequentially imitative. It’s necessary for any talent MC who wants to call himself complete to be able to corral different styles in their arsenal, but the mediocre artist who tries this mostly sounds unsure of himself at best (say Tyga), or a ruthless biter at worst (Soulja Boy). Pittsburgh native Mac Miller frequently falls on one side of the aisle, and doesn’t appear to really have the chops to improve here.
Watching Movies With the Sound Off is a befuddling effort. Mac Miller is an artist who still hasn’t found his voice or thematic core, and because of that he tries to get by on personality and wordplay alone for much of the album. This would work if he was engaging, humorous, concisely thoughtful or anything under “unique” in a thesaurus, but he’s mostly just window dressing for the dissonant, borderline eerie soundscape. Instead of one liners that can endear or carry a song, the best he can do is lines about how his girl “takes off her trousers every time (he’s) around her”.
The 16 tracks scale the lot from laments on the past, to raw bar fests, to attempts at abstraction, but none of it is done particularly well. Only when focused does Mac deliver something that has replay value, unfortunately it’s mostly when other artists enter the picture.
He trades bars with Earl Sweatshirt on “I’m Not Real” and sounds motivated…”Matches” featuring Ab-Soul sees Miller building a thoughtful narrative on premature success. “Suplexes Inside of Complexes & Duplexes“ features a surprise verse by Jay Electronica who showed up for his yearly rap recording in grand fashion, but also brings out the inner philosopher in Miller, with ambitious lines like “if mars is the farthest that man has set his target, then I don’t even know why I even started.”
It’s those rare moments of emotional bareness where Miller can be a successful artist. He’s a technically adept lyricist, all he needs is focus and a reason to not feel like he’s trying to outsmart the listener into keeping his songs on. A track like “REMember”, where he speaks his piece on his childhood is the lane he needs to stay. A track like Youforia where he’s trying to be Drake, Kid Cudi and ASAP Rocky all at once is not.< A focused Mac Miller is a solid enough artist given his ear for beats, but the moments where he's left to drop mediocre bars then have the audacity to imply he wants to be an icon are just painfully trite. This has it's moments, but all in all you may want to just turn the TV back up until the next go around.