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Album review: Tyler, the Creator's 'Goblin'

Tyler-The-Creator-Goblin Tyler, the Creator is kind of like late chess master Bobby Fischer: obviously some sort of genius, but that doesn’t mean you want to listen to much of what he has to say.

Preternaturally talented, honest, witty, smart, simultaneously poetic and conversational, the L.A. rapper and founder of Odd Future on his label debut, "Goblin," has a flow that’s curious, assured and magnetic. His internal rhymes can at times be jaw-droppingly clever -- he rhymes "estrogen," "lemons" and "pedestrians" in one brilliant but unprintable couplet, threatens to "stab Bruno Mars in his esophagus" and discusses his masturbation habits throughout the 73-minute disc, tossing out humor and hate with equanimity.

On "She," for example, the closest thing to a slow jam on "Goblin," Tyler the teenager pines for a gorgeous girl to whom he can talk, while crooner Frank Ocean chimes in with a vocal hook. It's delivered with sweetly juvenile expressions of desire -- except that Tyler peppers the track with a single-word epithet that would earn him a kick in the groin from any self-respecting woman. Even worse, the track feels cobbled-together.

Throughout, Tyler interrupts himself to explain that he''s young, that this is fiction, that anyone who takes it seriously should be dismissed, ridiculed or murdered. Which is fine, of course, but by now he should understand that legions of fans worldwide take him and his music very seriously. The voice of his conscience -- yes, he's got one -- is manifested as a slowed-down narrator that comments on what the rapper is saying, a potentially interesting conceit that falls flat -- even when, toward the end of the album, Tyler loses his temper and starts screaming at it.

It's easy to defend Tyler's overall approach: He's one of the only musicians making tracks in 2011 that are actually shocking, and anyone over 30 who doesn't hear some of Tyler's rhymes and wonder on the future of "kids today" should be worried about creeping cynicism. He presses the same button that Elvis, Johnny Rotten, Chuck D and Eminem did by making music that feels truly dangerous. He's pushing boundaries, and you can argue with the words he uses, but truly great art often involves addressing uncomfortable emotions.

The problem is that Tyler, the Creator should get better at being Tyler, the Editor. Half of these 15 tracks could have made for semi-interesting free downloads, but to include them on his first proper album is a mistake. There's no escaping that, for example, "Radicals" is one of the dumbest, laziest songs of the year -- and that's track No. 3. Anyone who declares themselves radical over and over again doesn't get it, and if he's being ironic he hasn't figured out a way to express that level of nuance.

But then he'll drop 16 bars that are so smooth, brilliantly evocative, rhythmically precise and deserving of repeated listens that it's hard to dismiss him. "Tron Cat," in particular, feels revolutionary, as does the first single, "Yonkers," the thread being that it feels like there was honest-to-goodness elbow grease involved in their creation.

The problems extend to the album's production, most of which Tyler did himself. His style and sound are, even at age 20, absolutely his own: minimal and creepy like the Neptunes and menacing like some of El-P's spookier beats, with lots of silence and weird synthetic swooshes.

But over the course of 15 songs, the sounds start to lose their uniqueness, and everything turns the same shade of gray. Much has been written about Tyler's love of genre-busting artists such as James Pants, Stereolab and Bass Drum of Death, which makes it doubly disappointing that none of that vast appreciation for expansiveness makes it onto the album. The most complicated beat and musically adventurous track on the record is "AU79" -- and it's an instrumental.

What it comes down to, basically, is after about 50 minutes you just want Tyler, the Creator to shut the hell up. The record has very few cameos, and some of the tracks are seven minutes long. The cussing, the horror, the anger, the disappointment, the alienation, the frustration, while real and scary and sad, gets tiresome. That’s a lot of Tyler, and so much ego-maniacal nihilism, while fascinating and at times revolutionary, wears thin very quickly.

Tyler, the Creator
XL Recordings
Two stars (out of four)


Howling Wolves: Odd Future

Coachella 2011: Odd Future has some work ahead of them

SXSW 2011: Odd Future makes an early exit

 -- Randall Roberts

Comments () | Archives (11)

thank you.


I dunno Randall - it sounds like you were trying a bit too hard to find something critical to write about the album. After all, to admit to liking Tyler and Odd Future would garner chuckles from your editorial compadres.

Knocking the production? You've heard the tracks he's floated out there in the past - why would the 'official' album be drastically different?

Fifteen songs in a row of almost ANY artist is a bit much. If you're gonna criticize something, let it be the decision to release a collection of 15 songs at once. No one has that type of attention span anymore - especially 14 year-old white kids.

i don't think this is a fair rating at all. productionwise, it's dark, but atmospheric and originally melodic. it's also alot more balanced and thought out than BASTARD. i knew when i saw these guys starting to blow that people would compare them to the hype that other's have built up. don't forget that Tyler is basically flying blind; XL signed him to a 1 album deal which is like saying they're betting this is the apex of his career and the beginning of his downfall. GOBLIN is the opposite of that notion. no oversight, no commercial posturing, no compromising. yeah, RADICAL could've been left off, but minus 2 or 3 missteps; this guy pulled off one of the most daring rap albums in years. listen to it a couple of more times, then apologize.

There is all this concern surrounding production. Half of the beats were made by Tyler when he was like 16-17 years. With a small budget, and lyrical and rhetorical devices intact Tyler is one of the greatest lyricist with syntactical word play, juxapostion, and read between the lines wordplay. You can't ask more. Let see anyone compose their own beats and describe a certain topic so viscously. I'm not into rap, but whatever has talent should be acknowledged, not blinded with social ethics.(omg he talks about rape. Please shut the ****)

The whole world needs to be ready for Tyler, The Creator and all of Odd Future to blow up. Their name fits them completely. They are the future, the future of music as we know it. His lyrics my be dark but welcome to the real world where things aren't rainbows and puppies all the time. He's real and that's what the world needs in the future. Someone that won't sugar coat things and tells you EXACTLY how he feels. OFWGKTA is something that the entire worlds gonna know what it means soon. Be ready.

I know that most people don’t care anymore and that they are going to curse me out for saying this stuff. No wonder this country is messed up, when people listen to this kind of music with profanity, sexual garbage and violence, they think it is all right. First of all don’t give me that crap about freedom of speech, freedom of speech is not about behaving or acting like this, if the founding fathers who wrote the freedom of speech found out that it would end up like this they would be devastated. When I look at the kids today they all have filthy things coming out of their mouth with no respect for anyone, sleeping around with everyone, no wonder half of them are suffering from STD’s and other sexual diseases. This kind of crap has to stop, again I know you want to curse or beat the hell out of me, but I know that there are still decent people out there who think that this kind of stuff Is wrong and it is wrong. We have taken freedom of speech and threw it in a toilet ball with raw sewage swimming around it. The way society is going the way it is (Lack of respect, STD’s, Violence, Divorces, anything goes and nothing is wrong any more) imagine how bad it is going to be in another 25 years, we have to change our ways and become decent with high morals or this country is going to go down. Again I know most of you reading this don’t give a crap and are laughing at me really hard, but that’s the truth.

I think you are being a bit harsh in this review... the album is brilliant, as is the production. Yes, the album version Radicals should have been left off. It's meant to be heard LIVE and it's glorious. How can you treat your own like this LA Times???

Oh man rap is so old i'm surprized anyone UNDER the age of 30 still listens to it.

Yo, pretty good album. Bastard was better though, yo Tyler! It's me, your Gooch. I think bastard was better, their...I said it.

If the work of Tyler is "truly great art," and is informing us of a world view that will somehow shock us and lead us to a place of greater understanding via fascination, emotion, and catharsis, I would love to know something about the message of the "genius." Internal rhymes can be fun, but if the author is placing this album in the category of "truly great art," and calling it revolutionary, it seems to me that he might be able or willing to articulate to us his understanding of what Tyler's vision is. There's nothing innately exciting, subversive, or interesting about using epithets and expletives. Nothing new, nothing groundbreaking, and certainly nothing shocking. What ARE the "uncomfortable emotions" that the work evokes? What is the message of the work? What are the insights?

If this is truly great art, I would love to understand its operative modalities and its messages as compared with, say, the works of Rimbaud, or Plato, or Joni Mitchell (or even, for that matter, Eminem). There is no critical analysis at all in this review.


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