Frank Zappa (avant garde musician/ALLEGED thief of my grandfather’s tools) once described his album Hot Rats as “a movie for your ears.” Tyler, the Creator is a disciple to this principal with each of his releases being rooted in sonic concept. With his latest, IGOR, Tyler has created his most consistent and immersive project yet by utilizing elements from each of his previous releases with a bold new sound that has the potential to alter the entire pop landscape. I’m not being hyperbolic… IGOR could be the next 808s and Heartbreaks or Low. IGOR isn’t just another Tyler release, but the sum of all the musicians unique parts fully meshing together and taking the listener into territories unexplored.
The movie opens with a synth that sounds like the THX sound scraped against a cheese grater. Immediately, you are hit in the face with the audacity of this record- it’s like the opening to Yeezus: a big fuck you to anything you expected with the invitation to jump in or get out. The story of IGOR details a potentially (almost certainly) queer relationship that never was formalized- even if the feelings were authentic, albeit mostly one-sided. Tyler takes you through every traditional step: falling in love, jealousy, desperation to the point of self loss (the pleading of “I’m your puppet” in “PUPPET” got to me), acceptance, until he’s finally alone trying to hold onto any last emotional scrap asking again and again, “Are we still friends?”
This relatable arc is distorted under a contrast between harsh tones and melodic interludes. Tyler’s voice, one of his most distinctive features, is distorted to sound angelic and demonic sometimes within the same song. On “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU” he’s a child, completely vulnerable; driving home the point of his inexperience at all these “emotions for Dumbo”. A few albums ago, Tyler opened one of his first forays into non-rapping vocals with “fuck I can’t sing” but now, on “EARFQUAKE” he confidently inhabits an r&b singer. Tyler never raps in this track instead yielding to a transcendent Playboi Carti, who’s tonality is so desperate and adorable despite the fact that he’s impossible to understand except for a fleeting “Woah Vicki”.
IGOR builds on Flower Boy’s style of lush compositions but his tool kit is different; instead of leaning more into the orchestral/funk, he uses glitchy beats and samples to craft deceivingly minimalist compositions built on distortion and cacophony sandwiched between melodic interludes. Songs don’t so much build as transform/completely reject a verse chorus verse structure. Tyler’s much documented love for bridges is dialed up to an insane extent here best demonstrated on the spacey “I THINK”. When this album dropped people had the audacity to say it was mixed poorly but it’s only because they want a Migos record: hip-hop as a podcast. A clear voice talking over a beat. Tyler positions his voice in the mix, as another instrument. It never sounds buried though, just on the same sonic plain as its surroundings. This experimental mixing allows the hip hop music to bleed into soul into prog into psychedelic until it’s entirely its own thing.
IGOR’s sound isn’t totally without precedent: there’s the obvious NERD influence from Tyler’s DNA and Solange/The Internet’s brand of neo-soul. Kanye’s presence looms large over the record between a sample of the original “Bound”, a feature from the man himself, and the synths on “I THINK” (along with Tyler’s flow) sounds a lot like “Stronger” (“How can I tell you?” is the answer to Ye’s “Don’t act like I never told you”). But IGOR is mostly influenced by Tyler himself, we have a song built around a repetition of the phrases “fuck… skate” and another where Tyler invokes Dracula, both harken back to early Odd Future. You could take “AU76” from Goblin or “Partisntover” from Wolf or most of Cherry Bomb and could find much in common with IGOR. All those records (which felt like definite statements in themselves) were stepping stones to this point where Tyler has fully realized his powers.
The critical reception has been positive, its Metacritic score tying Flower Boy as Tyler’s most acclaimed. So many reviews compare IGOR to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but I can’t help to think critics played it safe here with their ratings. They judged the record as obviously good but maybe a little too niche to transcend into the classic pantheon. But then again they initially felt the same about Exile on Mainstreet.
Tyler sums up a major part of his artistic ethos on IGOR with the statement: “New album, no repeat, I reset.” IGOR is a testament to following/fully realizing one’s own creative vision without fear of consequence.
Oh, and one day I’ll know for sure if Zappa took Grandpa Pilato’s tools. It looks likely. Updates to come eventually…