Headphones on, album downloaded, lights dimmed. That’s how I listened to IGOR, Tyler, the Creator’s fifth studio album. It’s a creation filled with big features (Kanye, Solange, and Jack White, to name a few) produced, written, and arranged by Tyler himself. It’s arguably one of his best works, a true maturation and deviation from his previous albums. And at the risk of sounding too fussy about it, the best way to experience IGOR is to listen to it all at once--no stops, no distractions. Any album could be listened to that way, but with IGOR, it’s essential. Tyler even put out a statement before the album released, encouraging listeners to “fully indulge. With volume.”
IGOR is a creation more brilliant as a whole rather than its parts. It’s one of Tyler’s most experimental albums, featuring very little rapping—a far cry from Goblin or Wolf. But it also isn’t made up of the sweet sadness that defined Flower Boy, either. IGOR is more agitated and distressed. It’s about unrequited feelings and the process of moving through them. There’s a clear narrative in all of the songs: the guy Tyler likes goes after a girl, Tyler’s feelings aren’t reciprocated, can they still be friends? There’s even a Call Me By Your Name reference.
There are still happy songs on IGOR reminiscent of Flowerboy’s orange sunsets. And there are still remnants of Tyler’s classic sound—aggressive, hard-hitting beats and raps that pierce through the haze of other sounds. But there are also more details. There is an intricacy and complexity to this album that Tyler has never achieved before, which risks veering into drowning out his own words. IGOR is also lacking in lyrical diversity, though the album as a whole is still ambitious, finely layered and emotionally nuanced.
IGOR sounds like a dialogue happening in Tyler’s mind. He addresses the person he loves throughout the whole album (on “EARFQUAKE,” he begs, “Don’t leave, it’s my fault”), eventually realizing his feelings for this person: “I think I’m falling in love / This time I think it’s for real / How can I tell you?” During these particular moments, the album teeters on nervousness. And then, in “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” Tyler aims to have his feelings reciprocated. It’s implied that Tyler’s guy is lying to himself and maintaining some sort of relationship with her. Or is that what Tyler is trying to convince himself? Is the other person even aware of Tyler’s feelings—did he ever speak up?
In “NEW MAGIC WAND,” the emotional landscape shifts into sharp edges and rocky terrain. Tyler’s feelings have gotten more aggressive, and he’s fantasizing: “This 60-40 isn’t working / I want a hundred of your time / She’s gonna be dead / I got a magic wand / I wanna share last names.” Again, he begs, “Please don’t leave me now.” Tyler starts to acknowledge the toxicity of his relationship’s one-sided nature in “A BOY IS A GUN”: “Make your fuckin’ mind up / I am sick of waiting’ patiently / How come you the best to me? I know you the worst for me / You invited me to breakfast, why the fuck your ex here?” He needs to be with this person, but he’s realizing just how dangerous that is: “You’re a gun cause I like you on my side at all times / You keep me safe / Wait, wait /You could be dangerous to me or anyone else.”
“PUPPET” then goes further into Tyler’s obsession. He emphasizes how much he needs the person he’s in love with (“I can’t maneuver without you next to me”), and then he exposes a different side of himself—he’s willing to do anything for his love. Once again, though, he realizes this isn’t good for him. The song spirals into angst as he wonders whether he waited too long, and he questions why he’s willing to be controlled by an unreciprocated relationship.
In “WHAT’S GOOD,” it seems as though Tyler has risen from his depressive brooding and descended into a mad frenzy, like he’s trying to purge himself of his feelings. It sounds strained and unhinged at the same time, like he’s trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. Things calm down in the next track, though—“GONE,GONE/THANK YOU” is a swinging, child-like song. He claims his love is gone, and wishes the other person well. “You never lived in your truth / I’m just happy I lived in it / But I finally found peace, so peace.” Maybe this does mean that he told the person how he felt? Or is it still all in his mind? There’s a lingering sense that Tyler is trying to convince himself that he’s over it. “I DONT LOVE YOU ANYMORE” is a more resolute goodbye, a culmination of the album’s rising tensions. And finally, on “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS,” Tyler tries to reach out again. Maybe there are residual feelings, maybe they’re all gone, but he wants to be close to this person again.
In some ways, IGOR is a heart-wrenching album that goes through the process of falling in and out of love. It’s also the most emotionally vulnerable and raw Tyler has gotten, whether the narrative is real or not. He gives each word subtle meaning and emotion. We, as a blessed audience, get a multi-colored, transparent look at his experience. We hear Tyler’s words as he intends for his person to hear—the questions and the pleading and the arguments—but we are also privy to the fear, longing, and anxiety that rumble underneath the sweet synth exterior. And he puts those feelings on us so perfectly that by the end of IGOR, I am left desperately wanting a conclusion. But it’s never that simple. Tyler ends IGOR with a hopeful new beginning or a desolate future, a question that starts tentatively with the rebirth of his emotions and swells into him asking with increasing agitation and passion, as if the person he’s been addressing is walking away, “Are we still friends?”