Friday, July 21, 2017

Tyler, The Creator - Flower Boy Review

In early 2010 I sat, mouth agape, at the raw rage and somber dejection of a troubled teenager who grew up fatherless. Tyler, The Creator's 'Bastard' would, inevitably, open me up to a world of misfits known as Odd Future. Rambunctious outcasts intent on stirring the pot of lunacy made for the perfect antithesis to my guarded childhood. I was 18 at the time; so were they. Seven years have past, 25 now, and that world is no more. The members of OFWGKTA scattered amongst the smoldering rubble as I work comfortably at a job earned through a Bachelor's degree. It's like the scene at the end of The Sandlot where career choices unfurl before our eyes. It's a rite of passage to fly the coup when full maturity has been reached, and much like myself, Tyler The Creator did the same. It took realignment though, with 2015 marking the period of uncertainty; awkward relationships fading, future unknown, end result: Cherry Bomb. The kaleidoscopic calamity collided the want with the need, the beauty with the aggression. Naive and unjust one second, sincere and developed the next, Cherry Bomb captured a lost soul searching for a new home. With Scum Fuck Flower Boy, Tyler The Creator has found it.

You sure as hell wouldn't have been able to tell given the title, an impeccable characterization of Tyler's career thus far. Filthy and grotesque. Chaste and virginal. With Flower Boy though, the Scum Fuck is not needed. Like a caterpillar shedding the weight of his past, fluttering away as a beautiful butterfly, Tyler's latest work is his most mature yet; a synthesis of ideas as bright, colorful, and vivid as the feathers he longed for on 'Find Your Wings.' The pieces of Flower Boy were undoubtedly sown into the fabric of Cherry Bomb, a record stitched together by the repugnant hands of a child-at-heart. However, with the lead single 'Who Dat Boy,' you wouldn't have been able to tell. Much like Tyler's previous lead singles, 'Domo23,' 'Deathcamp,' and 'Rella,' 'Who Dat Boy' resuscitates the hysteria left vacant in the absence of Tyler. With A$AP Rocky in tow, the insta-banger came equipped with classic Tyler visuals, which also included his typical second single snippet in the form of '911 / Mr. Lonely.' With these two works, while quality clearly improved, the traditions implanted in Tyler's past remained the same. Thankfully, 'Who Dat Boy' amounts to nothing more than an attention-grabbing curve ball.

If the title didn't do a good job at reeling listeners in, the cover sure does. It's here, in the saturated pastures of sunflowers, that Tyler's iconic stature reveals itself. Wearing nondescript attire from head to toe, face hidden by a passing bumblebee, and yet you can tell it's him from a mile away. Ever since 2013's Wolf, Tyler's been creating this visionary world he can call his own. Ordinary colors replaced by oddities, blown out beyond reasonable proportions, entirely representative of the sounds found within. No song, apart from 'Who Dat Boy,' is devoid of having a bubbly exterior, so much so that even the grizzled Southern vet Lil Wayne finds himself caught between the crossroads of Soul and Jazz on 'Droppin' Seeds.' Tyler's always been influenced by the richness of these genres, and now that he's found his footing, and other artists like Frank Ocean, Anderson .Paak, Childish Gambino, and Chance The Rapper are gaining widespread attention for popularizing the same, Flower Boy's style feels more apt than ever. There's multiple times here, like on 'Where This Flower Blooms' or 'Boredom,' where Tyler feels inspired by Frank Ocean or Childish Gambino respectively, when, in reality, they were inspired by him.

After a pressing introduction that finds Tyler questioning his life's current turbulence using linear rhyme schemes on 'Foreword,' 'Where This Flower Blooms' invites the sheer glaze of LA's sunburnt strip that Tyler and Frank previously toyed with on 'Golden Girl.' Pitch-shifted vocals, tastefully executed, appear here and elsewhere, something popularized by Ocean as having artistic merit. On 'Where This Flower Blooms,' and on other pieces like '911 / Mr. Lonely' and 'See You Again,' Tyler effectively, for arguably the first time in his career, ties together dynamic Neo-Soul with harsh transitions that invite a necessary Hip-Hop edge. His talents as a producer are on full display here, bouncing between high-tempo percussion and slow-tempo strings, resulting in a product that's wholly original and strikingly well-crafted. There's a bevy of beat switches throughout Flower Boy, something that would've been nauseating (as seen on Cherry Bomb) if it weren't for the smart and delicate work Tyler achieves. Just look to 'I Ain't Got Time' as a textbook example. What begins as a Cirque du Soleil of utter pandemonium shifts exquisitely under Tyler's verse through handclaps, leading into another manic performance that's far more gritty and dogged.

While the grand theme of Flower Boy is quite inconsistent, the general synopsis leads us to a lonely individual past his social prime. Odd Future had to disband for Tyler to make this record, as evidence of his isolation can be found heavy-handedly on the three-track run of 'Boredom,' 'I Ain't Got Time,' and '911 / Mr. Lonely.' As Tyler's prone to do, there's some paradoxes here, finding our star singing the woes of a sequestered lifestyle before turning a blind eye towards all that would entertain his company. Coming from someone who created a Rap group, music festival, TV show, radio station, clothing line, magazine, and more, the desperation of companionship is the most shocking thing here. I say that with conviction, knowing full well the pseudo-announcement of Tyler's sexuality on 'Garden Shed.' To refute that all these revelations are disconnected would be foolish, as there's no denying Tyler's gay-leaning orientation, and struggle to find intimacy amongst the camaraderie, helped foster his struggle displayed on Flower Boy. In reality, Tyler's always been this lonely, it's just on previous works his attempt to counteract that was through shock, awe, and scandalous acts. Here, he pulls back the curtain and tackles the heart of the problem.

This comes to fruition on 'November.' It's not Flower Boy's best track, as the production takes a backseat, but it is the most mature. Multiple connections can be drawn to Kendrick Lamar and his more introspective works like 'Mortal Man,' 'Real,' and 'FEEL.' The forlorn nostalgia and fear of an unstable future have not been shown in Tyler's repertoire until this moment, causing 'November' to be, surprisingly, his most important track from here on out. Obviously, 'Garden Shed' can make a succinct case as well, but little of that has to do with Tyler's hesitant coming-out party. To match, and draw upon, 'Garden Shed's' important topic, the artistic composition of the track excels in building emotional tension that eventually leads to passionate release. The constant shifts in mood, using Estelle as a temporary mediator, really heightens the impact of 'Garden Shed' as you can feel Tyler's reluctance and worry set in each passing second he's not audible. Finally, after a riveting (and disappointedly short) guitar-shredding solo, Tyler emerges from the shed with roaring courage. Again with the Lamar comparisons, but 'Garden Shed's' strain and dramatic pace really bears resemblance to 'u,' despite not going all-out with the emotional breakdown.

Flower Boy isn't all rosy though. If it wasn't for 'Sometimes' and 'Droppin' Seeds,' two interlude type tracks that don't really serve a purpose, the 12-track run kicking things off would've been nearly flawless. 'Pothole,' however, is likely Flower Boy's weakest cut, as shoehorning Jaden Smith into the chorus doesn't fair for the best, and the overwhelming topic of cars (seen across the LP as well) becomes redundant rather quickly. Couple that with production that doesn't standout, especially sandwiched between 'Who Dat Boy' and 'Garden Shed,' and 'Pothole' exists as an errant outlier like 'Parking Lot' on Wolf. Along with that, Flower Boy's ending is rather suspect. 'Glitter' passes the concept test, finding itself trapped inside the confines of a lost phone message, but Tyler's singing, in conjunction with the autotune, is quite egregious. And then there's 'Enjoy Right Now, Today,' which is a rather weak beat by Tyler's standards, and with no vocal accompaniment, the four minutes drag with no real payoff. Flower Boy's ending droops rather than blossoms, but that doesn't negate the tremendous aura it provides throughout. Colorful, incandescent, and filled with life. Who would've thought that the foul-mouthed rebel known for making Bastard, eating a cockroach, and hanging himself would find a home in a land where the flowers bloom.

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