Welp, it has now happened: I could’ve sworn I reviewed a mainstream album at some point before today, but looking back on it, I have not. So I suppose this is the beginning of the end for my indie-aficionado facade. But seriously, I am going to start reviewing more mainstream albums. Quite frequently, actually. Now that I have officially discarded my hipster card, Let’s Get Started!
If you follow hip-hop, rap, or R&B at all, you’ve probably heard of Tyler, the Creator by now. Starting off independently in the late 2000’s, he very soon released studio albums starting in 2011, with Goblin; and he’s been pretty successful ever since. Each album has capped within the top 5 of the US charts, upon release. And this; his 5th studio release; seems to be his best, and most successful to date.
[The album cover to Goblin, by Tyler, the Creator]
Outside of his personal music career, he’s introduced many now-successful artists, such as Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean; who both have made an enormous impact on their respective genres. Tyler has also had his fair share of drama; with a lot of his actions both in and out of his music; but he seems to have found himself with a pretty favorable public image today, I think.
Getting into the album; I can’t really do my thing where I dive deep into every song, because holy cow, what does this album not do? IGOR draws influence from just about everywhere on the map. From R&B of every decade, to post-punk, to lo-fi hip-hop, to trap, to funk, to synth-pop; there’s representation from just about everywhere. And somehow, they work well together?
I mean, one of the largest things talked about is the production; where it is clearly lacking; however purposefully. Listen — honestly not even — carefully, and you’ll often hear crackling on several of the tracks; mimicking either a low-quality microphone, or an old record. Few criticize this as a bad thing, but it’s not an accidental effect of poor recording. It is instead a tool used for many things; such as heavily clashing with the sounds of the silky smooth, and romantic synthesizers used in most tracks.
Which, by the way, the synthesizers? This album features some of the most beautiful and hypnotic usage of them I’ve ever heard; and it starts from the first moment you press play. The entirety of the opening track, “IGOR’S THEME,” is accompanied by them, both aggressively heavy, and mesmerizingly soft. And whether or not you’re aware of them, they pretty much continue for the next 40 minutes. One of my favorite moments on the entire album; which is full of favorite moments; is just the quiet and simple instrumental break about 2 minutes into the 3rd track, consisting mostly of synthesizers. And no matter the placement, they play a pivotal role in what’s going on in the song, becoming a very flexible tool in Tyler’s arsenal.
[Listen to the opening track, “IGOR’S THEME,” here]
Along with those very 80’s-esque synths, come several piano parts as well, often hidden in the background, yet still prevalent. To me, they provide a pretty subconscious emotional backbone, that is often overlooked. That being said, this is a deceptively emotional album, dealing with a lot of dramatic topics, so it helps continue those themes. They also do a good job at closing off a couple of tracks like “I THINK,” where a clean transition is needed to get to the next section of the album.
Mirroring the flexibility of the synthesizers, the vocals come and go with many different styles as well. A good example of this is found on everyone’s favorite track, “EARFQUAKE.” Whereas 90% of the song features high-pitched vocals very reminiscent of vintage R&B, there’s a section around 2 and a half minutes where there’s some (I don’t want to say typical, but…) typical trap/mumble-rap vocals. Then there’s simply some tracks with much more aggressive takes, than others. For example, I think generally speaking, “NEW MAGIC WAND,” and “WHAT’S GOOD,” are much different vocally than the rest of the tracks on this release. In many ways, they remind me of some pieces of Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001, with their pretty apparent frustration. But none of this is unwarranted or out of the woods, just due to the context and purpose in which they’re used.
[Love it or not, everyone needs to see Tyler dance around on “EARFQUAKE”, which can be seen here]
This album goes from 0, to 100, to 88, to 57, to 45, and everywhere in between. The dynamics, tones, speeds, and aesthetics brought with this album go everywhere, but cohesively. “GONE GONE / THANK YOU” illustrates this perfect; starting with a whiny, but serene vocal performance, along with some acoustic instrumentals. Then, this tropical, summer jam gives way to some harsh, and heavy beats that then drive it through the final sections, and into the next track. They’re not aggressive, necessarily, as they feature very similar vocal styles, but the entire feeling of the song changes.
Now finally to the actual thematic and lyrical aspects of this album; which are just as good as the musical ones. If you’re not aware from the singles, or just general talk surrounding IGOR, it deals heavily with relationships, both good and bad. IGOR is a character Tyler creates, to sort of project his perspectives and experiences within relationships (or a relationship), and bring us with him on that journey. And it is a hell of one.
As far as a continual, linear story or experience is concerned, I don’t know if there’s a clear one. Much like a relationship, and how it evolves, it has about 8 trillion ups and downs, that shift intensely and quickly. The most simple parts are essentially the beginning and ends: showing a strong interest in someone, and falling love with them; to the point where things blow up, you don’t “love [them] anymore,” and you’re questioning “Are we still friends?”. Aside from that, honestly, most tracks have within them their own storyline, with their immediate twists and turns.
My favorite sample of this happens within “A BOY IS A GUN.” The lines literally go “I ain’t takin’ you home, yeah, I’m brushin’ you off / ‘Cause this parka is Comme, you’re my favorite garcon / Don’t leave, stay right here, yeah, I want you right near / You invited me to breakfast, why the fuck your ex here?”. Pretty sure the opinion he has about this man or woman switches every 2.5 seconds, as, of course, the situation doesn’t always stay the same. I don’t quite know if this is purposeful, but it once again reminds me of the warring sounds and visuals often brought with this album. The bright, smooth synth-pop and R&B conflicting with the dark, rough edges from the more lo-fi, punk and hip-hop. Either that, or Tyler just enjoys all of these genres and managed to create the greatest conglomeration of them physically possible.
But as I said earlier, this is basically a back and forth with him and someone else. Sometimes even himself in parts, recognizing the craziness isn’t a one-way street. Whether or not everything is entirely self-analytical, I don’t know, but he certainly understands; through one source or another; how things can go wonderfully right, and horrifically wrong between two people in love. The genius in some of the song writing isn’t incredibly easy to exemplify in a short piece such as this, but take my word for it; or listen to it yourself. At the end of the day, he’ll have you singing along to the gorgeous melodies in the amazing, albeit slightly-repetitive “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”.
[Stare deep into the sunglasses of this gorgeous man]
IGOR gives anyone just about anything they could want. While some people might not like a majority of what this album has to offer, I think anyone could latch onto at least one thing Tyler puts forth on this album. I have a hard time believing someone would just hate it, even if you hate hip-hop music. The topic is relatable to most people, and the sounds are pretty elucidative of most musical styles; from the late 60’s to today; wrapped up with a little modern, experimental hip-hop bow. I’m thinking a 10 on this one. Is it the perfect album? No. Is it the best in a decade? Also no. But I do think it’s most likely the best album release we’ve seen this year, and it’ll be difficult to top, but very possible. There just isn’t enough wrong with it for me to drop it any. To many, most qualms would just be pure bias and preference. For once, I think the populace got it right on this one.
Favorite Track(s): “I THINK,” “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”
Least Favorite Track(s): None