The artistic evolution of the members of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All has been nothing short of stunning; a marvelous progression from the raw shock-raps of their youth. Albums like Frank Ocean’s 2016 magnum opus, Blonde, Tyler, The Creator’s 2017 gem Flower Boy, Earl Sweatshirt’s unvarnished masterwork from 2018, Some Rap Songs, all rank as some of the finest records to come out of the last 5 years.
Add IGOR to that list. Tyler’s marvelous new album is a wide-screen exploration of lost love that dazzles at every turn. Bold, sharp and endlessly daring, it’s a focused follow-up to Flower Boy that proves that the marvelous artistry of Tyler’s second act was no fluke.
IGOR is essentially a proto-breakup album, tracking the racing emotions and the stages of grief that follow, through the lens of ambitious, experimental R&B in the vein of collaborators like Solange and The Internet’s Steve Lacy. It’s not hard to imagine the sort of bile and rage this concept would have evoked from Tyler in one of his earlier records. But on IGOR, he chooses to look inward instead of lashing out, resulting in a swirling, nuanced portrait of heartbreak.
Take a song like “EARFQUAKE.” The hook, which goes “don’t leave, it’s my fault,” is a bare admission of vulnerability, the sound of a man coming to terms with what he’s done. Paired with gauzy synths and a divine Playboi Carti feature, it’s a fantastic early highlight.
IGOR is filled with great little snapshots like these. “I THINK” is a bouncy love song that hides a darker side of dependence, complete with a nice little breakdown. “GONE, GONE/ THANK YOU” is the crushing sound of losing love, an odyssey hidden under deceptively sunny melodies. Santigold and A$AP Rocky guest on the knocking “NEW MAGIC WAND,” a sonically murky fight both jealous and obsessive. There’s a chaos emanating from the stormy “WHAT’S GOOD,” with a sense of inevitable doom that reminds of the “tick tock” refrains on Flower Boy’s uproarious “I Ain’t Got Time!”
Of course, a few standouts emerge from the pack. “A BOY IS A GUN” is explicit in the comparison it makes, an exploration into the power wielded by the boy he loves. Sonically, the song shares a lot with Kanye’s “Bound 2,” from the perpetual start-stopping to sampling the same Ponderosa Twins song for an ode to varying degrees of flawed love.
IGOR ends like most relationships gone sour do. The penultimate track, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE,” seems insistent on a clean break, with the titular phrase yelped over and over again on the chorus. But in true Tyler form, the ending is a brilliant bait and switch, taking the form of “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS” a desperate plea to keep connected that’ll only inevitably end up being worse. It’s a dazzling, cinematic ending, like a meta musical happening as the curtain closes. Tyler pleads that he doesn’t “want to end the season on a bad episode.” Luckily, as far as the record goes, he goes out on top like The Sopranos.