Review Summary: The wolf is prowling for your ears on Tyler's latest. Just let him take 'em
After the release of Domo 23 as a single, I'll readily admit that my anticipation for Tyler's third and latest album, Wolf, was dampened quite a bit, and that was mainly because of the song's dull subject matter. His breakthrough album Goblin dealed with Tyler's anxiety associated with becoming a famous rapper as he spits his bile to his therapist, Dr. TC. Listening to Tyler's rants could get a little tiring for some, but the character he played on that album was honestly interesting and wholly convincing, at least to me. Even when he was merely addressing negative blog posts, I could feel a little bad for him, and this was especially the case when he talked about missing his brother Earl and his fractured relationship with his mom. Tyler's stratospheric level of pain was and anger was palpable, and that made Goblin compelling listen from start to finish.
Domo 23 on the other hand left me underwhelmed and scratching my head. Instead of the angst-ridden content of Goblin that was so compelling and in-your-face, here we just have Tyler bragging about how much money he's made since "Yonkers" and the models he's banged in Europe, and it made me afraid that Wolf would turn out to be a narcissistic effort of self praise and bragging that would leave a nasty taste in my mouth. I was very, very wrong.
Wolf has turned out to be an impressive concept album and has to be the best thing Tyler has released up to this point. Bastard was an interesting first effort that only hinted at Tyler's full potential making the album just a tad dull, and Goblin gave us a more impassioned Tyler but suffered from some not-so-stellar tracks, making the whole album a mixed experience for me. Wolf combines the quality consistency of Bastard with the passion of Goblin, resulting in a entirely satisfying listen from start to finish. Everything from the rapping to the production has been reworked or improved to give us what is arguably the most impressive album anyone from Odd Future has ever released.
The best thing about this album is certainly Tyler's signature production style, which has been polished and refined to quite an extant. Tyler's beats on his previous efforts were a breath of fresh hip-hop air to me because they simply didn't sound like anything I've ever heard in hip-hop before with their video game-esque synths and swirly, dream-like quality, but the problem was that they also had a really cheap sound to them that has caused some grumbling from the group's detractors such as youtuber Anthony Fantano who described Goblin's beats in particular to be "crippled". The instrumentals on Wolf still possess Tyler's signature style; the synths, piano, and choppy drums are all here, but they sound like they were produced with much greater care and a higher budget. Tyler adds a lot of guitar on this album as well which put a smile on my mutton-chopped rocker face, in fact, Tyler may have actually played the guitar himself, so props to him if that's the case. Just listen to the foreboding sounds of "Cowboy" or the emotional "Answer" to hear Tyler's production at its best. Actually, I take that back. The best beat on this album has got to be "Rusty". It's boom-bap drumming and sparse, minor key guitar are totally reminiscent of something you would hear from a little group called the Wu-Tang Clan (you may have heard of them) and is a nod to the old school east-coasters of the '90s. There's also "IFHY" which builds up into a wall of anthemic synths that are almost overwhelming as Tyler raps "I ***ing hate you! But I love you..."
Like Bastard and Goblin, Wolf is an album that follows a loose concept, meaning that not all of the 18 tracks are part of the story, however, this album is not the sequel to Goblin. There is no Dr. TC or therapy sessions, this album is about a kid named Wolf who transfers to a new school in a class that is about to go to some sort of camp. Wolf's enemy is another student named Samuel whose girlfriend, a girl named Salem, Wolf is attracted to. I would've rather wanted an album to follow up on the cliffhanger ending of Goblin (where you find out that Dr. TC is all in Tyler's head, oh, spoiler alert) but there are actually loose ties to Goblin as well as Bastard. On the track "Answer", Tyler basically recites a hate letter to his father, and Tyler's hatred of his father was the central theme on Bastard. He also mentions the girl "whose name is his password" on the track "Awkward" which is parallel to the girl talked about on the Goblin track "Her". Overall, the concept of the album is executed pretty well, and Kendrick Lamar was was obviously an influence on this album as well. Like good kid m.A.A.d city, this album is labeled as a "short film" by Tyler, so the influence is definitely there, but the difference, and the reason why I like this album more than Kendrick's, is that Tyler is just so much more of a personality with all his anger and angst pouring out everywhere. That, and Tyler's voice is actually tolerable, even pretty cool, and I can't say that for Lamar.
For an album that I like so much, there is a lot of complaints that I have about it, mostly about songs that I've already mentioned. For one, Tyler still lets some of the drama of his life as a famous rapper get in the way of making the music he wants to make. On "Rusty", His verse pretty much devolves into a rant about how MTV won't play his videos and what his critics are saying about his music while taking trips to the bank on a daily basis. "Awkward's" narrative about teenage love is similar to that of Goblin's "Her" in that both songs are pretty amateurish in their lyrical execution, and the topic of Tyler hating his father has already been done to death on his previous efforts. But overall, everything on Wolf is a considerable improvement over just about everything else he's done lyrically and musically, and I listened to it from front to back with a grin on my face. Oh, and Earl is coming out with his album Doris soon, an album that should provide some major pwnage. I short, it's a pretty good time to be an Odd Future fan right now.