Tyler, the Creator: IGOR - Album Review
An explosion of sounds, moods, and well-executed influence.
This is not a normal Tyler, the Creator release. Over the years, “normal” for Tyler has come to mean a few things: ear-bombing beats, blasphemous self-aggrandizing, and that certain “your mom wouldn’t let you hear this” X-factor. IGOR, the follow-up to Tyler’s incredible Flower Boy, is the first to shed this last facet. There is nothing particularly cruel about IGOR, nothing that would alarm your neighbors. It sounds like a pop album, like a Neptunes-produced R&B project, and with little rapping from Tyler across the album, it’s no idle threat that this is his greatest departure yet. It’s also his best album.
IGOR succeeds precisely because it is different. Where Flower Boy signalled a sea change in Tyler’s style with catchier songs and lusher instrumentation, IGOR dials things back. Songs are just as complex, with moody chord changes (“WHAT’S GOOD”) and thick basslines (“I THINK”), all with a heavy smear of distortion. It’s apparent from the opening synthline, the chunky beat that directs “IGOR’S THEME” like a true TV theme song. Lil Uzi Vert takes control of the chorus, in the first of many fantastic (and uncredited) features. “IGOR’S THEME” is a bold start. It doesn’t feature any rapping from Tyler (or any natural vocals), or an especially catchy structure. It provides the valuable knowledge, however, that IGOR is not a pop album. In a post from Tyler the night of release, he said not to expect anything; not a rap album, not a Tyler album. That warning is exactly what makes IGOR such a riveting listen.
Tyler’s ear for mood, lyricism, and heart-wrenching balladry has never been stronger than on IGOR. Despite the neon artwork and title, this is an immaculately layered album, with sounds hidden in corners of every song, meant for repeated listens. These are “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” “PUPPET” and “NEW MAGIC WAND.” Songs that don’t just encourage listening, but demand it. Try tuning in to any of these three once through and recalling every beat switch.
The instrumentation may sound purposely low-fi, but this is a passion project. “WHAT’S GOOD” and “I THINK” are the initial standouts, purely in terms of fantastic drums/bass. But where there isn’t breakneck speed, Tyler is exuding personal laments for a relationship that he’s been obscuring with a larger-than-life persona for years. For every “Hard to believe in God when there ain't no mirrors around,” there are lines like “Don't leave, stay right here, yeah, I want you right near.” IGOR is a breakup album, hitting every major beat that the genre requires: Initial high (“EARFQUAKE”), signs of slipping (“RUNNING OUT OF TIME”), the split (“A BOY IS A GUN,” “PUPPET”), and resolution (“I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE,” “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”).
Like The Smiths with clean guitars and bouncing basslines, Tyler has his bag of emotive tricks to help you remember his lyrics. The synth breakdown on “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” is flashy without indulging, a solo that spotlights the rest of the song. When it fades for Tyler to slow-rap alongside snaps and a jittering synth-bass, the mood lands hard. For some, these moments may not register, coming across like sounds sputtering out of control while no one is singing or chipmunked call-outs echo in the background. Subtlety is the name of IGOR, and without it would sound like just about every other rap record out today, not to mention Tyler’s own increasingly great discography.
Again, it’s the lack of showmanship that makes IGOR such a revelation. When the beat pauses on “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” for Tyler to come in; that should have been an explosion. Fireworks, bars, screams, but no, he saves those for when they’re needed. Hinted at on Flower Boy, he is quickly becoming one of the most talented arrangers in hip hop today, as IGOR sees him engaging with R&B consistently. The previously mentioned track sees him carrying a guitar and synth ballad easily, his singing voice on prominent display. He’s no Solange, but this album has everything and nothing in common with her 2019 release When I Get Home. There are interludes, personal ties to a lyrical theme, and a devotion to sound that’s unlike anyone else right now. I can’t stop listening to “WHAT’S GOOD,” in all its braggadocious glory and moody chords, and the deep-seated anxiety of “A BOY IS A GUN” has been on repeat since I heard it. IGOR is an album of feelings, a breakup record that doesn’t just tell us how to feel, but shows us, and for that reason, it’s Tyler’s strongest statement to date. Not for shock value or harrowing personal revelations, just great music.