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Miller began work on Swimming in 2016. He announced the album through social media on July 12, 2018, alongside its release date.
Music and lyrics
Lyrically, The Independent stated Miller addresses the acknowledgment of his temper ("Wings") and the pitfalls of fame ("Small Worlds").
Concerning the album's music, Rolling Stone noted Swimming is "a continuation of 2016's The Divine Feminine, with a silky, deep vibe redolent of the L.A. alternative soul scene." The song "So It Goes" has been said to incorporate "muted guitars and a spacey synth drone", while "Wings" has been described as "a spacious neo soul slow burner punctuated by the occasional sigh of a violin."NME wrote that "Ladders" is "a buoyant radio ready bop, which sees his bars skitter across glorious brass lines and earworm riffs." "Jet Fuel" was described as "sluggish, dancehall-inflected trip hop", and "What's the Use" as "synth-funk".
Miller announced The Swimming Tour on July 23, 2018, with Thundercat and JID as his opening acts. The tour was scheduled to have 26 shows across North America, beginning in San Francisco on October 27, 2018, and concluding in Vancouver on December 10, 2018. It was cancelled following Miller's death on September 7, 2018.
On May 30, 2018, Miller released the album's first single "Small Worlds" and two non-album singles: "Buttons" and "Programs". The album's second single, "Self Care", was released with an accompanying music video on July 13, 2018. The album's third single, "What's the Use?", was released on July 23, 2018.
Swimming was met with generally positive reviews. At Metacritic, the album received an average score of 78, based on 13 reviews. Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave it 7.5 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.Album of the Year assessed the critical consensus as 75 out of 100, based on 19 reviews.
Meaghan Garvey of The Guardian described Swimming as "a patient record in sound and concept" and "an ambling 13-song journey towards self-acceptance, one that does not end in triumph." Colin McGowan of The A.V. Club complimented the album's production and vocal delivery: "Miller sounds great when he's whining, croaking, stretching syllables like warm mozzarella. Swimmings spare, dreamy production allows him to do a lot of that." Evan Rytlewski of Pitchfork concluded: "An album with nothing but time on its hands and an understanding that healing is a slow, tedious process, Swimming is most engaging when it details the simple things Miller tells himself to keep his spirits up." Kyle Mullin from Exclaim! enjoyed the album, saying, "Whether Miller is singing on those funk-inflected highlights, or rapping on them with a flow that's airtight to their irresistible rhythms, he sounds like a would-be chart-topper, not to mention one of the most versatile and accomplished hip-hop artists working today." For NME, Hannah Mylrea concluded: "Swimming isn't what you would have expected from Miller when he first started dropping mixtapes over a decade ago, but that doesn't matter. This album shows his growth as both an artist, and as a person who's had to deal with the most private aspects of their life being publicly dissected. It's a stellar - if somewhat overlong - artistic statement."
Mosi Reeves of Rolling Stone wrote that Swimming is Miller's "most impactful album of his career", though noted a lack of lyrical depth: "If he could surface those demons with more vivid details and add texture to his lyrics instead of simply using them as a rhythmic device, then he may have a genuinely classic album in him yet. But if Swimming doesn't quite achieve greatness, it connects. You can hear his pain and perseverance, even if he struggles to put it into words." Neil Z. Yeung of AllMusic concluded that "Swimming is ample evidence that Miller can pick up the pieces and continue evolving, his grasp on thoughtful, introspective hip-hop getting stronger by the album." Trey Alston of Highsnobiety concluded that Swimming is "the authentic self-destruction album so many artists have attempted before. Here, Mac is in rare form, chronicling his destruction and rebirth in a way that shows his acknowledgment of the path ahead, but reluctance to step on it without the certainty of companionship at the end. Whether he continues to walk that path is ultimately up to him, but the Mac that's featured on Swimming will find his way from the darkness. In the process, he's given us a beautiful means to mark the turn of his narrative."
In Miller's home country of the United States, Swimming debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 with 66,000 album-equivalent units, which included 30,000 pure album sales in its first week. It serves as Miller's fifth consecutive top-five album in the United States.
Following Miller's death on September 7, 2018, the album rose from number 71 to number six on the Billboard 200 with 67,000 album-equivalent units, of which 15,000 were in traditional album sales. Additionally, three tracks from the album entered the US Billboard Hot 100: "Self Care" (number 33), "Hurt Feelings" (number 70), and "Come Back to Earth" (number 91). "Self Care" became Miller's highest-charting song as a lead artist and second-highest entry overall, behind Ariana Grande's "The Way" featuring Miller (2013; number 9). On April 23, 2019, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for combined sales and album-equivalent units of over 500,000 units in the United States.
In Australia, Swimming opened at number 21 on the ARIA Albums Chart, becoming Miller's third top-50 album in the country. In Canada, Swimming debuted at number four on the Canadian Albums Chart. It serves as Miller's fifth consecutive top-10 album in the country. In the United Kingdom, the album debuted at number 37 on the UK Albums Chart, becoming the rapper's first top-40 album on the chart.
^"Czech Albums - Top 100". ?NS IFPI. Note: On the chart page, select 201837 on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data. Retrieved September 17, 2018.