Post-Odd Future Tyler, The Creator finds him somewhere between Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt. He can be as reclusive as his mates, but he embraces pop melodies, unlike Earl, and is too anarchic to be a cleansing songbird. Though he probably won’t admit it outright, he gives too much of a fuck to be punk. The reformed enfant terrible cared enough to tweet some instructions for listening to Igor hours before it dropped. Do not go into this thinking this is Flower Boy or any of his other four albums. Do “just go. Jump into it,” as he instructs.
A short time ago, Tyler asking us to put ourselves in his headspace would’ve been a tall order, but Flower Boy gave him that real estate. It was the big Tyler Has Grown Up album, where empathy takes up more space than vulgarities. The sudden shift from his serrated, bloated prior projects was easy to buy because, whether he was cooing dulcet melodies or slick talking beside ASAP Rocky, it was delivered with a wink that says, “It’s me, your pal Tyler.” The lovelorn “911 / Mr. Lonely” is one of Tyler’s clearest bops — it climaxes with a grinning, “I CAN’T EVEN LIE I’VE BEEN LONELY AS FUCK.” Flower Boy was strong enough that, under the umbrella of its introspection, neither Tyler nor the critics who loved it had to reconcile this relatable bisexual with the man who once said the six-letter F word over 200 times on an album.
Tyler’s latest again spends time ruminating on unrequited love. But Igor isn’t Flower Boy II; its closest comparison is When I Get Home. Solange — whose sweetly naive caroling colors Igor’s “I Think” — also went from warm critical acceptance to acclaim with her prior album. When I Get Home doesn’t have the definition of A Seat At The Table’s collection, instead relying on repetition and psychedelia to convey an almost mythical idea of home. You believe it when Tyler cites Solange as an influence. The tempo is more frantic, but the melodies rotate, intersect, and disrupt, while songs either burn out or halt in this fussy collage.
Naturally, because When I Get Home and Igor both stitch themselves in a way that demands a full, front-to-back listen, there isn’t too much emphasis on matching career peaks. Nothing here quite touches the immediateness of Tyler’s best, though it’s easy to imagine his audience singing along to the off-key schmuckishness of “Earfquake.” Rather, Igor’s successes mainly comes from Tyler’s own growth. The assaultive synth sprint that’s “What’s Good” would’ve been a mess had he attempted it on Cherry Bomb — Tyler’s weakly mixed N.E.R.D. album — but every hairpin turn feels sharp and conveys a sense of urgency here.
There’s emotional growth foregrounding this album, too. In the past, Tyler’s (or at least one of his characters’) answer to scorned love was to straight-up bark, “I fucking hate you.” In 2019 … it still kind of is. What makes the sentiment more engaging this time is that it’s delivered with acute self-awareness and specificity. The witticisms and memories Tyler draws from on Igor’s centerpiece “A Boy Is A Gun” (the one with the “Bound 2” sample) each have a quirk or tragedy to them (“You invited me to breakfast, why the fuck your ex here?/ Well, let’s see if you ’round the god around this time next year”), so his frustrated “stay the fuck away from me” refrain feels deserved.
Tyler’s romantic arc — infatuation to breakup to acceptance — isn’t a new concept; you’ve probably already lived it. But there’s a refreshing intimacy to how that timeless narrative is paced on Igor, like a fist unclenching for 40 minutes. Igor starts with a distorted sonic blitz and closes with a sunny slow jam. It moves freely, yet there’s a precision to the instrumental shifts that gives the requisite Tyler quotables emotional weight. The front half of “Gone, Gone / Thank You” is a rush that swings between saccharine and baritone pitch shifts. It mimics the uncertain frenzy of love, so when Tyler tells his ex, “You never lived in your truth, I’m just happy I lived in it/ But I finally found peace, so peace,” the thought rings with clarity. Yes, introspection is critic bait (see the fawning over Jay-Z’s 4:44), but in Tyler’s case, it outright sounds good. The vulnerable Tyler we met on Flower Boy is here to stay.
Igor is out now via Columbia.