Odd Future probably don’t get the credit they deserve as a collective. Frank Ocean could be argued as one of the most exciting talents in the music business as a whole right now and he has two excellent releases in the Nostalgia, Ultra mix tape and Channel Orange LP. Earl Sweatshirt has been receiving critical acclaim for the brilliantly understated I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside while The Internet’s brand of soul/trip-hop/electronica continues to be criminally overlooked. The subtlety and relative conservativeness of acts such as these is in stark contrast to the group’s leader Tyler, The Creator who has courted controversy throughout his career and continually manages to say things that would make Marshall Mathers LP era Eminem blush.
However, there is more than meets the eye – beyond his public persona there is an unrefined sensitivity and introspectiveness to his work in places. Bastard, Goblin and Wolf¸ previous outings, could all be described as overlong and disappointing. He has continually failed to bring the musical quality that you simply need to have if you’re going to behave like he does, right or wrong. Each album showed undoubted potential and when he’s on there isn’t anyone else who makes music quite like this:
Cherry Bomb is definitely a departure from his earlier work and it is pastiche in a way that no other hip-hop album has been since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Charlie Wilson, who is literally all over that record, appears on the…interesting ‘Fucking Young/Perfect’ where Tyler laments that the girl he is in love with is “too fucking young”. If it wasn’t for the rather unfortunate specifics of the subject matter, it’s actually a good attempt at a tongue-in-cheek love song from an artist that has rarely shown this level of musical sensitivity in the past (the entire album is self-produced). ‘Find Your Wings’ sounds for all the world like it could not have been made by the man-child who partially rose to fame on the basis of his love of liberally using the words “faggot” and “cunt”. Musically it is a mixture of gentle piano notes and horns, while Kali Uchis sings:
We can go down to the rainbows
Don’t let your high keep your brain low
You’re a bird
You’re supposed to fly away
The way you stand there
Don’t let your wings go to waste (Go to waste)
The sky is your home, be free
Both are interesting, welcome changes from someone who has never shown this kind of range. West himself features on the excellent ‘Smuckers’ along with Lil’ Wayne. It’s a somewhat unlikely trio, but it works and all three are in great form (West, hilariously, enters the song sarcastically wondering “Why, oh why, why? Why don’t they like me?”). ‘2Seater’ is another highlight. The opening song, ‘Deathcamp’, sounds like it’s backed by a ten year old N.E.R.D. beat while Pharrell himself appears on ‘Keep Da O’s’, the punk-rock, ‘Lapdance’-inspired former is a lot of fun even if it lacks the creativity that is evident elsewhere. Pharrell’s influence is also felt on the ordinary ‘Pilot’, its drums sounding like they were extracted directly from ‘Rock Star’.
There’s a lot going on here – sometimes too much. Tyler drowns himself out on the industrial title track, which sounds like it was recorded off the radio except the station wasn’t quite tuned in properly. The man himself noted on Twitter that on “CHERRY BOMB I JUST WANTED TO PUT THE INSTRMENTAL AND ONLY HAVE VOCALS ON THE BRIDGE, BUT I SAID FUCK IT AND RECORDED MY VERSE…LOW AS FUCK”. It’s difficult to listen to, and all the more testing seeing as it directly follows ‘Find Your Wings’ and the instructional ‘Run’, which encourages young people to get away from gangs. The record is full of these sort of contradictions (‘Pilot’ is similarly distorted and it bleeds into the vocals without lowering them), just like its author.
At times it’s frustrating, but Cherry Bomb is definitely worth sticking with. It feels like a transitional period for Odd Future as a whole. Earl Sweatshirt has eschewed the shock antics on both of his full-fledged studio releases to date (as opposed to the vulgar-for-the-sake-of-it mix tape Earl) and as Tyler, The Creator albums go this is practically cultured. This probably isn’t the best LP that he’s capable of making, but for all its chaos it’s his most focused and mature release to date. At 24 years of age, there are signs that Tyler is finally starting to grow up and realise his potential.