And so ‘Wolf’ begins.
If you’re not already familiar with Tyler the Creator’s work, this may come as a slight shock. For existing fans and detractors alike though, this is pretty standard. We know where we stand and, despite general hints before release that ‘Wolf ‘might take a different direction from previous albums ‘Bastard’ and ‘Goblin’, there are no huge surprises. What we do get though, is a much more confessional and in fact listenable album.
The bristly greeting done, we’re promptly taken through introductions of the various personas at ‘Camp Flog Gnaw’, the summer camp concept binding the album together: Ace Creator greets Wolf, makes the necessary gesture towards Sam and the band and leaves; Sam eventually responding with “stay the fuck out of our way and we’ll stay out of yours.” In short, internal conflict is back on the menu.
Thematically then, ‘Wolf’ certainly retains the irreverent, self-contradictory and generally unhinged nature of all Tyler’s back catalogue. Songs like ‘IFHY’ bounce along with hooks like “We’re good at being troubled” while in ‘Cowboy’, Tyler deals directly with the whole multiple personas/names issue by rapping “Knock-knock motherfucks, it’s me, mister cluster-fuck.’ Even the most emotionally open and personal track ‘Answer’, at one point deals with a desperate longing to talk to Tyler’s absent father by flitting between a naïve hope for reunion and absolutely scathing hatred. And at eighteen tracks long, there is still plenty of space for the riotous wordplay and aggressive imagery in the likes of ‘Jamba’, ‘Domo 23’ and ‘Trashwang’.
What has certainly developed though, is Tyler’s ability to make all these things cohere. The recurring themes of an absent father, a recently deceased grandmother and newfound fame, popularity and wealth all manage to sit remarkably comfortably in one album, no matter how jarring the actual experience. This is also due to Tyler’s growing production ability which, always ambitious, now feels confident and secure.
More than just technically proficient, ‘Wolf’ successfully manages to dive deeper into Tyler’s love of diverse musical tastes in a way that was previously showcased on occasion. Asking Sam’s band at the beginning, “So you guys are into jazz?” this is an album which then freely segues from the mellow synths and Frank Ocean backed vocals of ‘Awkward’, to the fast-paced, boastful and just plain bat-shit swag-fest that is ‘Domo 23’. And, having never been one to hide his love of and resulting inspiration from NERD, Tyler even manages to recruit Pharrell for guest vocals on ‘IFHY’.
This then is Tyler’s best offering yet. It may not have the global appeal of his OF stable mate’s ‘Channel Orange’, but it is certainly his most accessible and enjoyable. As if he cared.
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