Review Summary: a monster 'bout to come alive again
I kind of hoped something like this was coming. When "Enjoy Right Now, Today" closed out Flower Boy
, when Tyler spent the second half of 2018 dropping Cherry Bomb
instrumental tracks, especially when I heard the gorgeous all-sung loosie "QUARTZ". But I was still surprised as IGOR
spun to a close: Tyler, the Creator finally made his Donuts
is, of course, not a beat tape in the same vein as J Dilla's classic. But there's something in Tyler's newest that echoes that minimalist, looping, eyes-to-the-sky aesthetic, most notably "A BOY IS A GUN", which I'll get to in a second. Some of IGOR
feels like an extension of Flower Boy
's poppier cuts; "WHAT'S GOOD" and "NEW MAGIC WAND" are much superior retries of Cherry Bomb
's industrial distortion-rap; mostly, it's not a rap album at all. Tyler has stripped away all the signifiers of his sound and aesthetic that even the bold reinvention of Flower Boy
still fell back on, namely the double music video for the first single, features from Frank Ocean or Syd, and self-referential callbacks to his earlier work like Flower Boy
's kinda cute defenses of Cherry Bomb
. (Okay, IGOR
has one, a sneaky "the irony is I don't wanna see you again", and it's such a sad and defeated moment that focusing on the callback to a song that was as bright and life-affirming as it gets feels like missing the point).
Somewhat regrettably, Tyler's new vision means still no Earl Sweatshirt or Vince Staples, even on an album whose twisted and distorted minimalism sometimes feels tailormade for a verse from them. But it's hard to begrudge this when IGOR
deploys features almost as brilliantly as the revolving door of internal and external voices that made up Blond(e)
. Playboi Carti shows up early here, and dominates "EARFQUAKE" as the only really clear feature. From there on everyone is subsumed into Tyler's murky vision, from a ghostly Kanye barely making a ripple on "PUPPET" to Pharrell distorted and heat-hazed on the closing song. It's not bad mixing or lazy craftsmanship; actually, listen through a good pair of headphones and this is sonically one of the best albums of the past few years. "WHAT'S GOOD" is like "I'm In It" filtered through the horrorcore of Tyler's roots, while cuts like "I THINK" and "GONE, GONE" introduce an indie psychedelia bent that's entirely unique to his work, the latter a psych-folk type thing with a multi-layered falsetto chorus that somehow sounds like Brian Wilson working with BROCKHAMPTON. Best of all is "A BOY IS A GUN", a choppy soul throbber with echoes of "Bound 2", probably due to the samples coming from the same song. But where Kanye's song interrupted itself every few seconds to beat you over the head with the sample, "A BOY IS A GUN" is more reminiscent of the Tyler-produced "Bound 1" with its pre-Rick Rubin simplicity, and paired with a devastating emotionality comes out as one of Tyler's finest ever cuts.
Then of course there's the vocals from the man himself. On Flower Boy
, the singing was restrained and occasionally lovely, as on the quiet confessions that start "See You Again" or that split second of Tyler alone on "Boredom" before he asks for an assist with the harmonies - the wild off-key wailing in "Glitter" was more the exception than the rule. But it's "Glitter" which provides the standard across IGOR
, with essentially no clear or undoctored vocals at all. His voice is mangled and stretched in every direction, forming the monster the album title suggests he's created, whether it's the 'motherfucking goblin' growls in "WHAT'S GOOD" or hard-to-listen-to wailed pleas to Tyler's departed partner. "Don't leave, it's my fault" is an early striker, the polar opposite to "Boredom" and "911 / Mr. Lonely"'s sometimes wordy definitions of loneliness; most affectingly for fans in the "Glitter"/"ROSE TINTED CHEEKS" camp, a quiet "I found peace in drowning / please don't save me" which provides a desolate album centrepiece.
is not by any means Tyler's best work, and at times deliberately plays against his strengths in order to keep the listener off-guard - this pays dividends in the stunning "I THINK" and "A BOY IS A GUN", less so on the repetitive and cloying "RUNNING OUT OF TIME" and "ARE WE STILL FRIENDS？". What it is, though, is a form of ragged beat-tape minimalist that Tyler wears extremely well. No longer content to over-explain his angst and loneliness in verses (or before that, Em-style shlock humour), Tyler embeds it in the music itself, creating a 12-track song cycle with undeniable flow where the vocals act as a supporting instrument. It's the clarity of vision and production quality that called Donuts
to my mind, but really IGOR
is comparable to every instance good or bad where a rapper has stepped outside the box they made for themselves, from The Love Below
to SATELLITE FLIGHT
. In the end though, it's just a Tyler, the Creator album, maybe the dark side of Flower Boy
, marinating in the comedown of that album's beautiful and ebullient feelings. There's a monster loose on IGOR
, one that's surprising and dangerous in comparison to the tryhard darkness of his early career - where he goes from here is anybody's guess.