Mac Miller’s growth since 2011’s Blue Slide Park has been an exponential spectacle, with his atypical path leading up to Watching Movies With The Sound Off marked by a young man’s pursuit for harmony in a scene of personal skepticism. In between those 20 months in which this quirky, independent Pittsburgh emcee topped the Billboard charts, Mac has released a number of projects, none similar to the next, flirted with alter-egos, and dabbled in self-production, all the while dealing with an addiction to Promethazine that hampered his musical disposition. Now, Mac Miller is more focused, with his sophomore set lending a thorough look into the 21-year-old’s life.

Musically, this album can be traced back to moments of Macadelic and You, but his execution has unquestionably improved. With a melancholic backdrop seeping through his patient prose, “REMember” details the passing of his close friend, Reuben Mitrani. While still shaken, Mac finds solace in wisdom as he raps, “Your life’s short, don’t ever question the length / It’s cool to cry, don’t ever question your strength.” Elsewhere, he embraces his baritone vocals with the unexpected treasure “Objects In The Mirror.” The topic here plays off the metaphorical outline of his previous dependence to “lean,” and Mac’s ability to mirror his words as if he’s describing an unhealthy relationship speaks to his lyrical ingenuity.

Whereas Miller refrained from sharing the limelight on BSP, his guest selection for Watching Movies features a murderer’s row of new school misfits that bring out the album’s best moments. Whether it’s the vibrant glow on “Matches” or the eccentric tone of “Suplexes Inside Of Complexes And Duplexes,” Mac sharply raps alongside the likes of Ab-Soul and Jay Electronica with skilled precision. Then there’s the sensational pairing on “Red Dot Music,” where he saunters through lyrical acrobatics with Queens native Action Bronson. It’s a toss-up for best verse, but Miller definitely gets his licks in: “Word to my denim fiends, I’m Kennedy on ecstasy / My flavor from the nature, need an acre for my recipe / They got my soul, but I don’t let them take the rest of me / My melody, a little like Kenny G’s, it’s heavenly.”

In the grand scheme of things, Mac Miller doesn’t completely leave his playful demeanor behind. Both “Watching Movies” and “Bird Call” sit on an island of sexual provocation, with the latter track pushing his lofty illusions to the max (“I used to give a fuck about success / Now I just want to see Mila Kunis undress / Hope she down for buttsex, it will be a cum fest”). He also hits a bit of a rough patch when channeling an existential perspective with “Aquarium,” issued through a monotone cadence. To be fair, there are some notably deep lines to be found here (“Read about the meaning of dreaming and all its messages / Sedatives that take me to God, witness his fetishes”), but ultimately how it fits into Watching Movies is unclear.

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Whatever adolescent deficiencies Mac Miller dealt with throughout his prodigious rise as Rostrum’s second brain child, Watching Movies With The Sound Off genuinely keeps him grounded for a calculated performance that will earn him the respect he’s craved since his Easy Mac days. Miller doesn’t pander for a clear cut radio single, nor does he let the fear of Internet backlash obstruct his experimental approach. In that respect, the Pittsburgh emcee is right back where he started; kickin’ incredibly dope shit.