Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR Review

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Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR Review

Jackson Wyatt, Digital Editor-in-Chief

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Both indebted to its predecessors and an unparalleled body of work on its own, IGOR stands as Tyler, the Creator’s best offering yet.

 

Over the past decade, Tyler Okonma has worn a variety of costumes over his wiry shoulders and striped T-shirts. On Bastard and Goblin, he was a troubled, teenage psychopath. On Wolf, a gang of rebellious summer camp kids. On Cherry Bomb, a Mad-Max-esque, flamethrower-wielding warrior.

That was what made his 2017 Grammy-nominated album Flower Boy so much of a revelation. It saw the mask pulled down farther than ever before, exposing a romantically and socially frustrated mind into the sun. This doubtful man had made himself aware to us many times before (in each of his album’s personas, Tyler always leaves more of himself than of them), but this time, he seemed to be completely center stage in his own dressed-down outfit. The effort received feverish applause from both long-supporting fans and long-doubting critics for its intimacy and warm, sunset-orange production. There were claims that Tyler had finally matured into one of the greats. The bratty provocateur had grown up!

As an artist, the sentiment must be complicated. Okonma’s entire discography is diverse and labored over, so such claims tend to erase his previous offerings. Plus, if everyone thinks you have finally matured and made your magnum opus, where is there to go from there?

IGOR is Okonma’s most abstract and free-flowing album yet, a body of work that refuses to be minimized or categorized. Flower Boy saw Tyler working out his complicated relationship with rap, successfully using it as a piece in his increasingly complex productions. In comparison, IGOR feels like a divorce from the genre, and a beautiful one at that. Similar to many of Kanye West’s curator tendencies and possibly even further in execution, Tyler is more interested in bringing voices together than spitting a verse for a good portion of the project. On IGOR, he uses collaborators like instruments, blending them into the instrumentation as they croon, spit, scream, chant and emote.

On the first listen, it almost feels like nothing is center stage. Tyler’s voice hovers under the mix through many of the tracks, pitch-shifted and auto-tuned just as much as his regular voice appears. Such a treatment would often make the average listener cautious, but this style suits the album’s appeal. Okonma’s production holds universes inside of it, so densely layered that the compositions almost sound thick. Even when his vocals are fluttering around in the background, the songs feel undeniably full and expressive. IGOR is an egoless album (something DJ Khaled should study), and instead of nothing being center stage, everything is.

Just look at the opening track, ‘IGOR’S THEME.’ It starts with a wall of synths pressing inward for 23 seconds, crunchy and electric like a corpse being brought back to life. Then, sharp, static-encrusted drums kick in, a bolt of lightning that propels the song forward in all of its noisy, bouncy glory. Voices slide over each other, unidentifiable and unified. A piano appears, dark keys stretching out until the mix explodes again. Someone shrieks a war cry. Textures play together like kids on a jungle gym. Even when the lyrics repeat, tracks on IGOR feel like they are constantly moving forward, evolving with each chorus instead of backtracking.

The following ‘EARFQUAKE’ is just as excellent, standing as the album’s most accessible and possibly catchy track (though most of Okonma’s hooks tend to stick). It does not lose its key weird factor, though, pushing together warbly melodies, lotion-smooth bass and a wonderfully incomprehensible verse from rapper/cultural-MVP Playboi Carti. It may not get as much radio play as it deserves, but it shows just how powerful hip-hop and pop can be when they are combined by the right force.

‘I THINK’ is a twilit powerhouse, emulating the dance allure of Kanye West’s Graduation era with Okonma’s own warm, lo-fi twist. Solange Knowles’ backing vocals flesh out the chorus to old-school-R&B greatness, mingling with Tyler’s excellently gruff inflections over the pulsating beat. Alternatively, ‘NEW MAGIC WAND’ finds its strength in a rabble-rousing energy, with Tyler shouting and writhing with jealousy over cascading layers of clacking drums, fuzzy bass and curtains of overlapping, pitch-shifted vocals. It is one of the record’s most cathartic and fiery moments, save the sinisterly funky standout ‘WHAT’S GOOD,’ Tyler’s answer to the question, What would crashing your flaming car into a jazz lounge sound like?

Interestingly enough, some of IGOR’s best moments can be found when Okonma seems to drift the furthest from his roots. ‘RUNNING OUT OF TIME’ is a dreamy slice of Frank-Ocean-inspired angst, and ‘I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE’ can be traced quickly to the haze of bedroom-pop and other lo-fi indie productions. A full shock is the sunny-and-stormy duality of double-track ‘GONE GONE/THANK YOU,’ with the first portion possessing one of the record’s catchiest hooks. High-pitched vocals seem to stretch up to the ceiling, completely removed of identity and glimmering with light as they sing, ‘My love’s gone.’

Like the rest of IGOR, it is a balance, equally heartbroken and too energetic to care. Rarely is the much-maligned ‘breakup album’ presented in such a forward-thinking and dynamic execution, and the debate-worthy haziness of the lyrical content provides just the right amount of sadness and frustration over the attention-grabbing instrumentation. By the time the final track, titled ‘ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?,’ rolls around, Tyler is singing his heart out over pieced-together soul samples and a reported guitar solo from Jack White. It is both unbelievably unexpected and irresistibly right. Genre and expectations be damned; Tyler, the Creator has found his voice.

Rating: 8.9/10

 

(All sources from featured artists’ Genius and Spotify pages)