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Pop album review: Tyler the Creator's 'Wolf' can be daring, smart

His third solo album is his best to date, though it's too sonically flat to confirm his place as a top-rate producer.

April 08, 2013|By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Tyler the Creator's "Wolf."
Tyler the Creator's "Wolf." (Sony Music )

Drawing conclusions on the music of Tyler the Creator based on his shocking way with language is like trying to explain the plot of a comic book by noting how much red ink is used. It's not only unfair, but inaccurately draws the Los Angeles-based rapper and founder of the Odd Future crew as one-dimensional, which he most certainly is not.

On "Wolf," Tyler's third solo album, the producer, rapper, comedic actor and storyteller revels in his many dimensions, and has released his best album to date — even if it's too long and too sonically flat to confirm his place as a top-rate producer. Still, when it's on, "Wolf" is a daring, smart and precisely imagined record, and sounds like little else in hip-hop right now.

At 70 minutes and 18 tracks, "Wolf" carries Tyler's fans on a new journey into the minds of his characters. Deep listening reveals nuances — many of them were introduced on his previous records "Bastard" and "Goblin" — and bits and pieces of plot pepper the album's duration, making it feel like a comic book come to life.

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This swirling chaos of voices comes from every angle. Samuel, for example, hates you. He's Tyler's most menacing creation, who near the end of "Rusty" (spoiler alert) murders Earl Sweatshirt mid-rap. "I rolled here on a mean unicorn," he raps on "Cowboy," one of the album's twisted highlights.

Elsewhere, Tyler, who produced the album, crafts minimal tracks with wobbly time signatures that are naturally unbalanced. The best of them, "Treehome95" and "Tamale," illustrate a musician taking rhythmic chances to great success, even if they're hobbled by an unfortunate flatness. Sonically, the record's just not very dynamic. Snares, high-hats and tom-tom drums don't pop the way they should. Even Tyler suggests this in "Domo 23," saying that the record "sounds like midgets in the ... speaker." You're the creator, Tyler. Do something about it.

Tyler's "Wolf" may lack in editing and aural oomph, but it more than compensates with wit, if you can get past the way he seems to revel in tossing off invectives and then doubling back to defend them. He'd save a lot of breath, for example, if he cut back on one homophobic epithet in particular. There are more clever ways to describe his detractors, and Tyler proves he's got the brain to do it. His unwillingness to do so shows more laziness than it does blatant intolerance. Either way, it's an unnecessary sideshow to his talent's main attraction.

Tyler, the Creator

"Wolf"

(Odd Future Records)

Three stars (out of four)

randall.roberts@latimes.com

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