‘IGOR’ signals a new era for Tyler, the Creator

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 5:16pm

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Tyler, the Creator’s sixth full-length album, IGOR, is both a natural step into his constantly evolving identity and marks a creative equilibrium for the avant garde hip-hop artist.

In terms of Tyler’s eclectic discography, IGOR is probably most similar to Flower Boy, but to call it a continuation of Flower Boy’s jazzy weightlessness would be misleading. Where Flower Boy is zany and bright, IGOR holds back, rueful at its happiest.

The album, at its darkly tranquil core, traverses the gradual process of accepting existential uncertainty. Many of Tyler’s albums act like operating tables for specific anxieties, unafraid to bloody the scalpel in the procedure. WOLF is the consummate example of this tendency, exploring the self-consuming angst of fatherly absence. With IGOR, coming to peace with himself doesn’t mean these anxieties will cease for Tyler, but rather that his ability to overcome them is improving.

The first track, “IGOR’S THEME,” is nothing more than a tone-setter for the rest of the album, following a simple, compelling synth riff played over energetic drums. But for the remainder of IGOR, the anxiety that Tyler places under his unique microscope involves falling in and out of love. “EARFQUAKE,” the song that kicks off this journey, is one of Tyler’s catchiest ever, recalling the pleasantly swaying chords of “Boredom” with a more poignant edge (and without the infectious summeriness of Rex Orange County). It easily stands as one of the album’s highlights, even if it’s not the most ambitious of Tyler’s works to date.

The sense of haunting inevitability Tyler lays out in “EARFQUAKE” with the line “’Cause when it all comes crashing down I'll need you” persists throughout the album. In the song “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” Tyler develops a tension between substance and style. Despite describing the quickly crumbling facade of a relationship, the beat is mystical, spacey and relatively slower than the rest of the album. The effect of this contradiction conveys a hopeless longing, a futile wish to slow time and alter the imminent.

One of the most fascinating aspects of IGOR is how different the album sounds based on one’s surroundings. The first few times I listened to it, I devoted all of my focus to the listen, usually sitting down. However, the experience of driving while playing IGOR revealed an entirely new facet of the album. Engaging myself in a soothingly systematic activity like driving shed light on just how evenly paced and naturally composed the album is. It tells a simple story, but one that fluctuates seamlessly through dynamic musical styles.

Much of this effect lies in Tyler’s typical genre-hopping. The pulsating, arpeggiated outro of “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU” gracefully melts into the sludgy, cracking tones of “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE.” This penultimate track gives way to the explicitly bluesy finale of the album, “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” It’s one of Tyler, the Creator’s best songs, not because of its clarity in message but rather the lack thereof. Are our once-lovers still friends? That’s a likely yes. But are the ghosts of their romance really gone? That’s a far more compelling question, so Tyler knowingly keeps it ambiguous, with deceivingly harmonious chords and an all-too-bright melody.

IGOR is a robust, fascinating addition to the eccentric, self-mythologizing canon of Tyler, the Creator. While it certainly bounds forward in his maturity as an artist, it lacks the edge that he so unapologetically embodied. This transition shouldn’t be a disappointment; it doesn’t take away from the piercing power of his discography. Better yet, Tyler has seemingly arrived at this pensive, nuanced stage of his persona on his own terms.