Rethinking Tyler, the Creator's Goblin: Why It May Be One of the Year's Best

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I know. You're sick of reading about the little shit. So am I. What I couldn't have known during my miserable first run through Goblin is that I wouldn't be sick of listening to it as July approaches. Not by a long shot, not nearly as much as I thought I'd be when I slogged and blogged my way through it in this space. I could still do without some of the overkill at the end: The instrumental "Au79" and dumber-than-D12 "Bitch Suck Dick," and at least one other, I'm sure. But the first nine tracks are a thrill ride, outrageous track times and all. Few albums have grabbed and held in the first half of 2011 for me like that sequence. For one, that 73-minute sprawl leaves a lot to dig into beyond one listen. I missed the album's first laugh, when Tyler finally emerges to spit a somewhat tired opening credo ("I'm not a fucking role model!") and his pitch-shifted therapist sighs, "I know this."

At first, I laughed at what a pathetic record Goblin is. But now I sort of laugh with it. No one, certainly not the skilled-entertainer-brained Eminem, has ever captured uncomfortable teenage awkwardness so accurately before. Not brilliantly, accurately.There are many bad lines and secondhand witticisms on Goblin, from "burn shit/fuck school" to (yes) "I'm a fucking walking paradox/No I'm not." Nicki Minaj could school him on clever dick and shit jokes, but this record can be heard as Tyler crying his way home from that battle. It is half-formed thoughts and inappropriate jerkoff moments. It isn't witty. It is unapologetic about rape because without rape, it has nothing witty to say. It is a fully realized picture of a 19-year-old asshole who doesn't quite know what to do with his gift. And in capturing that embarrassment, from the skits to the turgid, amateurish sonics, it's extraordinarily compelling for something that sounds so close to shit. There are tunes i didn't notice because of the disconcerting structure: I did not walk away humming "She" until I saw the video, and wasn't first drained by seven and a half minutes of "Radicals". Other pieces took on an ambient quality: the Urkel sketch "Her" and especially the schizo "Goblin." I really undervalued the bookending psychiatrist tracks.

The poisonous sound quality and bad notes have taken on a fixation of their own -- the avoidance of just about every note I'm expecting is something. Shout-out to my colleague Jonathan Bradley, who puzzled it out a few weeks before I did: "I really like the ugliness of the sounds," and "The beats are muddy, but they're not careless," both of which now hold true for me. All that fugliness in one place recalls Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury -- another chewy listen that took me months to love -- and in several instances ("Tron Cat," "Golden"), the squealing sirens of the Bomb Squad-era Public Enemy. I recall Portishead's Third, M.I.A.'s /\/\/\Y/\ , and Sleater-Kinney's The Woods, all three such forceful attacks on tunefulness they ended up perfect in the reverse direction: enduring sourness. True emo records arm themselves with proggy tempo changes to mask even acknowledged self-loathing and awkwardness with fancy musicianship and Chuck Palahniuk song titles -- to look cleverer than they are. Hip-hop, thank the lord, stays seductively in place. Repeat something enough and it's a groove. Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" proved that by turning an insistent headache into one of the true '90s tour de forces, emo musicians evoke a cleanliness that doesn't resemble what's in their heads at all. Tyler's clashing, murky phantasmagoria matches his unsharpened ugly thoughts exactly.

The Eminem analogy that initially offended this diehard (I'll ride for Encore) is so wobbly because Slim Shady knocked it out of the park on every line while playacting a hateful retard. By contrast, Tyler's inconsistent rapping fuels the illusion that he's compelling because his imperfections extend beyond his persona. "Shish ka-Bob Sagets"/"Fuck faggots" is one rhyming couplet that's exactly as clever to 19-year-old assholes as it needs to be. That is to say, the thrill here is not that "Yes, we punch bitches" is funny. It's that you think it's exciting that these knuckleheads are trying to one-up each other. And yes, they're spoiled too soon and it's going to get bad -- you never get a record this borderline from the same artist twice. But Goblin walks that tightrope so well,  it genuinely feels like every line negates the one before. They're flicking a switch on and off to annoy the adults. You know it's punk because punks are hurtful little pieces of shit. Tyler is too talented to outright fail as long as he remains at this compelling juncture. But he won't. Eventually that walking paradox will pick one direction and maybe even bore us to death. Don't be surprised if he finds God either. That's the thing about "burn shit/fuck school" types -- extremes work both ways.

Odd Future performs June 21 at the Regency Ballroom.

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