I’ve always loved Halloween. Keep the candy, though; I honestly couldn’t care for sticky sofa cushions whilst The Shining credits roll. What’s worth seeing, every year, is the imaginative unboxing for those of us in dress-up, how a blood-crusted lip or an axe in the neck becomes glamorous, sexy, unbidden. Sometimes a disguise can reveal more about us than the clothes we wear every day. With IGOR, Tyler The Creator gets to be the monster he’s been accused of in the past, whilst creating the most instrumentally rich album of his career. But it’s not because he’s a bad boii anymore. Flower Boy laid his enfant terrible persona to rest. We’ve moved past rape jokes and cockroaches. IGOR is monstrous because it’s about a breakup, and the mask on both participants is slipping.
There’s urgency to this realisation. Tyler’s new album is refreshingly short, and not a second is wasted. ‘RUNNING OUT OF TIME’ says it best; written after Kendrick Lamar heard a preview of IGOR and advised that every ounce of emotional honesty should be freeze-dried in the project, we get love as a worried beast, a blind and desperate thing that lopes around repeating itself. From track to track, repetition is a curse. Tyler is locked to a man who is drawn back to a woman. He can’t handle it, and occasionally thinks of murder, implicating the cold draw of a pistol in ‘NEW MAGIC WAND’. “My brother says I’m on the spectrum,” he barks in that iconic gravel flow. “Don’t call me selfish I ain’t sharing, this 60/40 isn’t working. I want all of your time, you’re mine.” He wants to shoot and bite and fuck. Don’t we all, eventually? Seeking a master isn’t shameful, as it’s hard to know how much of ourselves is wrapped into the idea of what someone can make us.
Doctor Frankenstein made a monster from composite parts of men. Igor sees a genius and a Promethean. But the anger that breaks for air in the LP’s soupy production seems to be directed at a male lover’s ignorance of who he is, and that he has feelings for another man at all. On ‘GONE GONE/THANK YOU’, Tyler claims that his partner never lived truthfully, yet he is glad to embody what this guy is missing – the undesirable face of homosexuality. The song’s bounce and castrato mournfulness clash wonderfully; we’re thrown into an indie rock sample, then down into a well with fuzzy echoes of Tatsuro Yamashita’s ‘Fragile’ for a brief passage of darkness.
Before this, Igor the character is in denial. He is desperate on ‘EARFQUAKE’, saying it’s his fault, don’t leave – a tremor to the vocal tone, one of the many, many examples of purposeful imperfection, although Tyler doesn’t deny that he needs real singers (Cee Lo Green, Solange) to pick up the slack where it’s due. ‘BOY IS A GUN’ has another killer sample, a backslap from Kanye West, piano keys and the Ponderosa Twins reloading after gunshots. Here, Tyler raps about anxiety as a Spidey sense, recognising the sweet danger of love between dudes who are more used to squaring the YX chromosome as friend or enemy. He’s come to terms with the alternative – romance – and is all alone with it. He’s trapped and stunted. There’s barely a held breath within IGOR. It’s an outpouring of grief and passion that does not pause for a moment, and you have to be on board with that to enjoy the album. There’s nothing as specifically clever as, say, ‘Colossus’ from 2013’s Wolf . The feelings are more universal, so it’s understandable that hip hop purists are shrugging IGOR off – in the words of DJ Akademiks – as “spring cleaning music.”
That’s fine. I’d rather see Tyler The Creator ascend in the studio than stay level on the lyric game. When you have wild, thrilling compositions like ‘WHAT’S GOOD’, trademarked by the descending synths of Flower Boy and the ball-shaking thud of the “Dracula, Dracula” drop, I’ll take symphonics over linguistics any day.
Much has been made of the absence of a features list. That’s a signal of Tyler’s renewal; like Igor, he is “closing a door to open a window”, or cutting chains to a lot of his former work in order to paint with different colours. Awesome. If subsequent albums are as distinctive as this, he’s earned our trust to write an Icelandic folk ballad, should he wish to.
Notice, for instance, the final song’s break into sunlight – ‘ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?’ lifts us out of the murk with clear, warm acoustic slides, and all of the soul you could ever hope for. Tyler might as well be asking his fanbase if they still love him now that he’s exorcised a demonic creative streak, one that is likely to bring Odd Future’s ringleader a shitload of converts in 2019. And in the end, Igor peers to the sky. He can’t foretell what awaits him, but he’s pleased that he is open-hearted. Ugly, yet honest. What relationships tend to deserve, and the truth is that more people will love the man in the green cap because of it.