There are two variations on the awkward school picture Wolf album cover above: a jubilant black-and-white close-up of Tyler, and a Mark Ryden illustration, portraying Tyler in the forest, atop his bike. All three covers foreshadow the themes present in Tyler’s latest album. Happiness, sadness, love, isolation, loneliness and frustration, Wolf is Tyler’s attempt at addressing these experiences–both lyrically and musically–in a more mature manner. Granted, slurs and vulgarity are ever-present, but there’s a feeling that Tyler is coming into his own throughout the album.
As with his prior releases, there is a story in Wolf. The setting is the fictional Camp Flog Gnaw; the main characters are the protagonist Wolf, the antagonist Sam, and lady-of-interest Salem. Counselors console agitated adolescents, children sing campfire songs and other campers offer their own stash of canned beans.
Wolf begins, also following in Tyler‘s tradition, with the title track, which ascends into Todd Rundgren-esque psychedelia. Echoed vocals float alongside airy piano keys before being barraged by percussion.
Tyler’s strong point is his production which has become more cultured since 2011’s Goblin. He’s still very much a sucker for Neptunes/Pharrell Williams-inspired chord progressions, but this album shows an appreciation for other artists as well. “IFHY” has Grizzly Bear-ish psych-organ introduction; “Tamale” is frenzied in a way reminiscent of M.I.A.; and “Treehome95” has an impressive acid jazz background, and although Tyler has been particularly annoyed by Wu Tang comparisons in the past, “Rusty” and “Slater” bang like ’90s era RZA production.
Paired with each luscious soundscape is often a story of self expression which vary in quality. “Rusty” is Tyler’s rebuttle to those who labeled him an atheist, rapist and homophobe during his Bastard and Goblin days. He’s realized outspokenness comes with a price and battles with that, even going so far as to emphasize how non-threatening his name is. “Pigs” however, plays like a Tumblr rant. His overzealous desire to exact revenge on bullies not only feels dated, but misplaced–sequencing and length are the album’s main detractors. “IFHY” and its Pharrell-assisted bridge is beautiful but the time it takes to get there dulls the resolution we are supposed to feel. “Bimmer,” even with its summertime vibes and chorus by Frank Ocean, is not as enjoyable as it could be because it follows “PartyIsntOver” and “Campfire.”
Regardless of placement, Wolf has some of the best songs Tyler has ever written. “48” is beautiful. From its staccato jazz guitar and driving beat to the Nas interludes, the song epitomizes Tyler’s creativity as he assumes the role of guilt-filled drug dealer. “Answer” and “Lone” show Tyler discussing deeply personal issues with new-found tact and composure. Where a no-filter attitude sparked his career, Odd Future‘s general is going through a transition that will hopefully prove he’s more than a shock-tactic strategist. Gradually, Tyler is ceasing to become the 666-obsessed, cockroach-eating menace to parents. He is making strides towards a career as the ambitious composer he’s expressed desire to be remembered as.
Wolf is Tyler’s ambivalent first step towards accessibility. There’s a feeling of nervousness and excitement throughout the album that showcases a boundless and creative mind, searching for innovation while maintaining its authenticity. He’s still angry and he’s still a kid, but he is a little less of both. This time around he is more of a man, making his case for true musical recognition.
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