By: Wylie Feaster
One of the more fascinating artistic evolutions of our current generation, Tyler Okonma, better known as Tyler, the Creator, presents us with IGOR, his fifth studio album, hastily following Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, the 10-minute, six-song EP released last November. After the mutinous, uncompromising sounds of his earlier work (evident in Bastard and Wolf), Tyler’s transformation took a massive leap with his use of much richer arrangements, languid grooves, and more considered writing on his 2017 masterpiece Flower Boy. Yet IGOR, the baby pink cover that has dominated my listening history for the past four days, represents his sharpest stylistic triumph to date. With the focus more on instrumental layering and texture as opposed to rigid song structure and rapping, the album consists of a smattering of out-of-key synths, dominant piano cords, and one of the strongest bass lines I have ever heard. “Don’t go into this expecting a rap album,” he wrote in a statement before the album’s release. Simply let Tyler tell his story.
A man of his word, the rapping is indeed kept to a minimum — and when he does, his deep, raspy voice is often cloaked in a barrage of digital effects, burying the vocals in a blanket of delicate instrumentals, rather than propping them on top. Even Tyler’s guests are often hard to identify; keep in mind, this is an album where no features are “formally” accredited. Kanye West makes an appearance on “PUPPET,” well, at least, I think it’s Kanye. To be quite honest, the verse sounds like it was rapped off the top of his head from a busy street outside the recording studio, while someone recorded the verse through the nearest first-floor window. But, I digress. The vulnerability that this type of vocal portrayal entails, a factor that isn’t usually present in any of West’s discography, works… like really well. Tyler incorporates the vocals of over ten masterful musicians with little chance of the listener guessing where the contributed on the first run through. It’s a guessing game that feels so fun to play.
Press play on track one, “IGOR’S THEME,” and you smash into a pulsating wall of synths that slowly builds to an eventual cliff dive on to a drum kit. This buzzing, eardrum bursting key riff — half horror movie, half audio porn — is matched with splashes of piano and unusual falsettos in a strange, scintillating mixture. I’m used to Tyler building worlds throughout his albums, but there’s a universe of sounds in just the introduction to IGOR alone. With great certainty, I have never been more entranced, especially by the likes of an opening track.
Next is “EARFQUAKE,” and, yes, the song does exactly that. It literally shakes the room. It has also seemingly shaken up the top charts as well, quickly climbing to the number one spot upon the album’s release. Once the vocals kick in, Tyler doesn’t sound like himself since the vocal pitch, in the beginning, is so high. There is, ultimately, a lot to contest with here, like the hugely contrasting vocal styles of both Playboi Carti and Charlie Wilson, the deluge of off-key synths, and the lovesick hook that Tyler delivers towards the very end of the track. Yet, the listener has nothing to fear. If listening to all of the different nuances of the song is not your forte, seeing it play out in front of you might just help. And Tyler does precisely that, flawlessly bringing every aspect to life in the brilliantly surreal “EARFQUAKE” music video, depicting blonde-haired Tyler playing the piano as the room around him bursts into flames.
While the lyrical content of IGOR may not prompt as much discussion as its predecessor (Flower Boy contained numerous references to Tyler’s sexuality), Tyler still manages to hold the listener’s attention, while still banging a very familiar, thematic drum. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know what I’m showing / Feelings, that’s what I’m pouring, what the f••k is your motive?” he implores on “I THINK,” before turning the blame in himself in the soaring two-part track “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU”: “I’m not shocked, I brought this one on me / It’s my fault, you gon’ leave” and declaring “I will never want to fall in love again.” The final stage of the album resembles the aftermath of a broken-down text conversation between two ex-lovers, with “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” being rather deliberately lined up before the final track, “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”.
Though the idea of love may not often see eye-to-eye with Tyler, he will always have the loving embrace of music to draw comfort from. IGOR has the twenty-eight-year-old expressing his elegant musicianship, showcasing his strength as a songwriter with a keen eye for detail and musical texturing; way more than once could I say I felt something while listening to this project. It’s up to me to determine what that something is. Elsewhere, Tyler’s continued use of diverse samples on IGOR has further enhanced his insanely unique sound that most fans have fallen in love with, bringing him that much closer to the likes of Kanye when it comes to having an ear for a good sample. I bet you didn’t realize that “A BOY IS A GUN” puts its own majestic spin on the same Ponderosa Twins “Plus One” track Kanye incorporated into “Bound 2” in 2013.
“As much as I would like to paint a picture and tell you my favourite moments, I would rather you form your own,” Tyler added in his pre-release note to fans. Whether or not you choose to follow his advice with either your first listen to the album or one-hundredth, IGOR is a well-accomplished record that’s well worth putting your phone down, turning the television off, and devoting your full attention to, while you tune into to the mind of Tyler, the Creator, a space full of the struggles and tribulations that form as a result of the intricate nature of love. Besides, he is the first hip-hop artist in history to achieve a number one album that he wrote, produced, and arranged all by himself — pretty magical if you ask me.
Fun Fact: Tyler, the Creator made his own CD art as kid.