What are we looking for from Tyler, the Creator circa 2015? We're five years removed from hearing "what the devil plays before he goes to sleep." Four from being introduced to the "f***ing walking paradox" who surrounds torch-bearing love tracks with stomach-churning rape jokes. All the protests and think-pieces have been dead for at least two years now. So now what? What then? With all of the artifice and hype swept away, what reason do we have to still pay attention to Tyler? Is he the kind of artist we don't want to grow up because his "immaturity" was what made him so fascinating to begin with? What the hell does artistic maturation mean for Tyler?
That central question is what makes listening to Tyler's fourth LP Cherry Bomb so frustrating; he doesn't have a meaningful answer. At times, flecks of musical evolution in Cherry Bomb are infinitesimal. "Pilot"'s got an incredible thrum to it, the kind you could fit on a percussive Dizzee Rascal track and then it’s swallowed by static before the chorus even starts. "Buffalo"'s lovely little chintz synths can't stand up to the unstable drum burbling, which makes you think the mic was inside the kit. There's a Clams Casino feel in the way Cherry Bomb is blown out, it sounds like it was mixed in a tin bucket of mop water then resuscitated with the exposed wires from a nearby light switch. You may need to consult Genius to find great lines like "Boy I got them epic shots like jaywalking in Missouri." The whole of closer "OKAGA, CA," with its cooing vocals and lithe strings, concerns escaping all of life's bullshit by flying to the moon with a loved one, but you'd never know that from the vocal effects applied to T.C.'s voice. I get the Yeezus aesthetic at work, but Yeezus was quotable from the words "Yeezus season approaching" in the opener "On Sight." Not so with Cherry Bomb; Tyler's trying to make a noise album while being lyrical, which isn't a workable dichotomy.
Not that everything Tyler says on Cherry Bomb is something people would want to hear. He still bounces the word "f****ot* around, which is far more frustrating now because he admits "I'm going harder than coming out the closet to conservative Christian fathers." That's a funny lyric undercut by his laziness to find a different word to finish verses. The more negative among us could take a line like "laying on my trampoline, gazing at the stars, "in the aforementioned "Okaga, CA," as the sort of inward-looking platitude appearing in a C-grade Kid Cudi effort. For people who eat maple syrup on a regular basis, hearing something so positive and sweet from Tyler is satisfying.
There are great moments on Cherry Bomb that don't need any caveats. If the instrumental from the title track didn't pop up in the 2015 horror insta-classic It Follows, then I must've been plugging my ears and closing my eyes. The opening notes sound like the devil waking up from a deep slumber. The dissonance works to Tyler's favor here because his rapping is so malevolent and fractured you'd believe he's trapped in this kind of hellscape. Elsewhere "The Brown Stains of Darkeese Latifah Part 6-12" (Remix) is flat-out marvelous and should be played to future generations of music lovers interested in 2010s music. It blends PC Music helium sighs; DJ Mustard plinks, clanging Pharrell percussion and an Arca-esque sense of build. I kept hitting repeat when I first listened to the album and logged 10 listens of the song on day 1 of the LP's surprise release. Tyler talking smack while nomming on Eggos is a detail that can't get old.
And then there's "Smuckers," Cherry Bomb's unshakeable center of gravity that features both Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Compared to "The Brown Stains..." the "We Major" Jr. song is miles better. All three rappers are in near-peak form, so picking a winner is difficult but Kanye's "Richer than white people with black kids, scarier than black people with ideas," is too good to ignore. The track’s brilliance is clear long before the horns stop blurting and Tyler fires a final missive.
I wish could say that for all of Cherry Bomb because I do find Tyler compelling as a musician. He’s willing to entertain ideas most would run scared from. He’ll f*** around and put hokey skits where they shouldn’t be. He’ll have keyboards fight for Sunlight with dark synthesizer clouds. The dude’s has enough respect and talent to bring Kanye and Wayne together and not be shown up. He believes in himself, but Cherry Bomb proves he still isn’t sure who he is as an artist.