Catharsis by Proxy – Tyler, The Creator’s IGOR by Jayant Bakshi

Image source: Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR/ Pitchfork

I’m sure most of us remember the non-apocalyptic times that were the 2010s. The 2010s, much like the ’70s, were the stepchild of that particular musical generation: not remarkably different from the decade that came before; but unique enough to act as the catalyst to the decade that would follow. The ’80s would be when rock and roll would start to fizzle out, with more pop centric music taking the fore in the mainstream. Most notably, the usage of the synthesiser as an instrument instead of its more traditional counterparts became common practice till the late ’90s. Pioneered by the likes of Giorgio Moroder (Scarface, Superman III), the synths became the defining sound of the ’80s. 

The “synth movement” was only halted by the astounding success of ’90s indie-pop (Oasis, Blur), coupled with the then mainstream aversion towards shoegazing (a genre characterised with its distorted vocals, heavy effects and overproduction; — My Bloody Valentine) and other synth heavy genres. This was until 2008, until a certain Kanye West made 808s & Heartbreak. An album about loss, grief and everything that comes in between; 808s brought the synths back to the forefront of the mainstream. 

This was a renaissance, with synths now gestating in popular music across the board. Experimentation was commonplace, and there couldn’t have been more ripe a moment when Tyler, the Creator dropped IGOR in May of 2019. 

Before I proceed any further, I apologise. For two things in particular. Firstly, this piece is not going to tell you something new, something that has not been said already by people much more articulate, talented and popular than me. 

Secondly (and this is something I’ve apologised for to my editor as well), this piece might or might not get a little too personal in certain places.

IGOR, named after professor Frankenstein’s hunchbacked assistant, is a deep dive into love. Or rather its end. The album’s narrative is about Tyler’s unrequited (?) love towards an unnamed boy. However, upon release, Tyler, the Creator said that the album was made with the intent of the listener being able to make their own experiences and mental paintings of the music. 

That’s all you need to know to jump into this album. 

Heavily influenced by the aforementioned synths of 808s & Heartbreak, the production is dripping with richness. It changes and bends as the album proceeds thematically. Aside from this, all I can say is that the production on this album is something one has to experience for themselves to really understand. 

Personally, I prefer to call IGOR more akin to a musical, with there being neat divisions of acts. The first song, titled IGOR’S THEME serves as the prologue to the story that we’re gonna involve ourselves in for the next 40 minutes; or your life if you’re like me. We realise this is about the loss of love, and coming to terms with that loss. 

This transitions into the first act that comprises of EARFQUAKE and I THINK. Poppy electronic arrangements tell us that this is supposed to be the feeling of falling in love. Lyrics like I THINK’s “…this time I think it’s for real…” are reminiscent of the incredibly whimsical things one might say before the beginning of every romantic relationship. Things world weary people would smile wryly upon; and say it isn’t. 

Jerrod Carmichael’s narrator transitions us into the second act with EXACTLY WHAT YOU RUN FROM… This marks a period of doubt that most people in their early 20s would be familiar with. Maybe it wasn’t for real; and maybe it was, but it’s too late now.

The second act begins with the aptly titled RUNNING OUT OF TIME. This is where cracks begin to appear: most often in romantic relationships — and musically these cracks are marked in the album’s production. Act 1’s rich production, although still very much in the fore, is now having distortions you’d hear on Tyler’s infamous albums like Goblin or Bastard. The song questions the fact that Tyler is running out of time to make the other person love them. By proxy, the listeners are running out of time. Perhaps, we already have. 

This is followed by NEW MAGIC WAND, inarguably the most horror-core song in the album. The song sounds angry, and it is supposed to be. Characterising the illogical and almost illegal thoughts of anger one might have in their lowest moments; the track transitions into the last song of Act 2 – A BOY IS A GUN. Intrinsically about the same themes the previous song was about, A BOY… just reframes them in a more acceptable way. The song ends with Tyler (the listener) telling the boy to stay the fuck away from them. The cracks have now formalised. 

PUPPET acts as the transition into the final act, taking upon the questions of self doubt and self worth that we might feel leaving someone we thought we loved. The dull vocal of guest artist Kanye West (who else), tells the person to breathe on a song. 

Tyler, now proclaiming himself Igor, does just that. Act 3 begins with WHAT’S GOOD, a song that says there’s more fish in the sea if a song ever said that. These feelings of surety and self professed godhood are dismantled in GONE GONE / THANK YOU. No matter how much the internet and self help books might fool us, we are humans. We stay in bed on days we don’t feel well. We still answer to bosses, professors and the world. More often than not, the veil has to be pulled back for us to proceed further, no matter how painful it might seem.

GONE GONE / THANK YOU is Igor being thankful for the love he had, but also its absence. The midway point — a studio outtake and a declaration — is Igor saying he’d like to do it all over again. But this is followed by declarations of confidence in saying his eyes are open now. The last song of the final act titled I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE is pretty much what is advertised. No entendres, no studio outtakes. Just the fact that love is gone. Clear, concise to a fault and heart wrenching, the song ends saying this just might be better for us. 

The epilogue ARE WE STILL FRIENDS deals with the childish hope someone might hold once everything is over. Being a past lover’s friend is something everyone has had the thought of. The relationship acting as the same fall that disfigured the titular character of Igor in the Frankenstein universe; the listener and Tyler both presumably still carrying remnants of their own relationships. Who’s to say that friendship might not lead to something more once again? Till then, who better to act as an assistant, a friend, a confidant than the hunchbacked Igor? 

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