unofficial import cassette with 2 panel J card - UK repress version - Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator has a rap persona pitched between shock-riddled misanthropy and confessional reflection; he’s preoccupied with his own press and he uses his music as a vent for anger and frustration. His debut album, Bastard, was filled with sharp darts for rap blogs who wouldn’t post his music, while his sophomore album, Goblin, wanted desparately to prove Odd Future was worth all their sudden hype. In the two years since Goblin’s release, Earl Sweatshirt returned from Samoan exile, Frank Ocean opened up about his sexuality in a heartfelt Tumblr note and released the Grammy Award winning Channel Orange, and Tyler unveiled "Loiter Squad", an absurdist late night sketch comedy show. As a group, Odd Future embarked on a series of tours that connected them with an expanding base of teenagers and outcasts even as they drew fire from LGBT advocates, women’s groups, and a music press none too amused by the macabre content of their lyrics. A lot has changed, and now Tyler returns with Wolf.
Where Goblin felt like an attempt to shoehorn the whole of Odd Future’s nihilist aesthetic into a single album, Wolf pulls back the curtain and reveal the talented introvert behind the music. The first thing to go is the bratty punk fury of earlier material. The insurgent bravado of “Radicals”, “Sandwitches”, and “French” is scaled back, replaced by songs that flip the conventions of his songwriting inside out. The songs about women are earnest where they used to carry murder ballads’ air of ill intent. Drugs come up, but we also hear about a remorseful dealer surveying the havoc he’s caused and a man having a mercilessly terrible time while high. Wolf is still the balancing act between gruff cynicism and juvenilia that we’ve come to expect from Odd Future (especially on “Pigs”, a bleak radio play about exacting revenge on bullies), but these songs are more three-dimensional. Tyler’s more likely to aim for melody instead of menace.
Wolf as a whole also sounds gorgeous, and that even goes for the bruisers. The polyrhythmic hi-hats of the madcap posse cut “Trashwang” eventually give pause to a piano bridge, and the blustery lead single “Domo 23” gets a bump from a boisterous horn section. Foreboding numbers like “Rusty” (a lush reimagining of 1990s RZA production) and the nightmarish, tribal “Cowboy” are declawed by rich textures and melodicism. “Answer” sets Tyler’s longing for his late grandmother and absentee father to a bright guitar figure and shimmering organs. “48”’s crack epidemic reminiscence is adorned with elegant pianos, string stabs, tasteful guitar, and spoken word interludes from Nas. Tyler’s pet sounds are dark melodies hammered out on wonky synths and clattering breakbeats but here they come padded with embellishments that give Wolf a cinematic breadth. The album is pretty, but beguilingly so.
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