Forget the controversy: everyone has a fair idea where they stand on Odd Future by now. Of more concern for fans of the equally-admired-and-admonished crew is whether they can bring the kind of quality control which has generally been lacking from their output to date, most notably on Tyler’s underwhelming XL debut Goblin. Unpromisingly, The Odd Future Tape Vol 2 sets out its stall with a track called ‘Bitches’, whose tight production and confrontational input from Domo Genesis and Mellowhype feel tiresome, before ‘NY (Ned Flanders)’ continues the ‘scary-spooky’ horrorcore tropes, the ‘dark’ lyrics about drugs, child abuse and reckless sex. Yawn. These two tracks prove to be red herrings, though, disingenuously playing up to accusations which have been levelled at OF from the beginning. Luckily, things warm up pretty quickly after that.
As the first ‘proper’ offering from OFWGKTA as a collective, two guys’ reputations loom tall over this record. Tyler, the Creator never reaches the heights of ‘Yonkers’, but generally his contributions are strong. An almost monomaniacal obsession with fellatio on ‘P’ is surprisingly enjoyable. Like on Goblin, he seems to flourish in company. Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra, meanwhile, reamins perhaps the most consistently praised of the group’s solo efforts. He lends a dose of that much-needed class here, impressing with the retro soul-tinged ballad ‘White’ and even managing to salvage ‘Snow White’ from descending into pure scatology. On ‘Analog 2’ his more considered presence even seems to rub off on Tyler, who obliges by dialling down his shtick several notches. Similarly The Odd Future Tape Vol.2 shines on soulful tracks like ‘Ya Know’, which basks in The Internet’s warm R&B sound, unravelling to reveal a lovely, descending electronic coda.
Predictably, the record slumps in its more consciously ‘aggro’ moments. ‘We Got Bitches’ is pure cliché, while Mellowhype seem to drain the quality of all those around them. On ‘50’ Hodgy Beats and Left Brain lacks finesse. Pure bombastic beats under a stilted flow and throwaway lyrics about ‘Islamics’ and requests to get with your female relatives lowering the tone a bit. ‘Real Bitch’ is another such uninteresting platform for the bellyaching — when faintly objectionable lyrics can’t even be delivered with ‘charm’ or a witty turn of phrase, what’s left? Sod all, we would suggest. The production and beats are mostly killer, though, from the John Carpenter-esque vibe of ‘Bitches’ to the amazing bass line on ‘Forest Green’. ‘Lean’ and ‘Analog 2’ find the collective indulging its more experimental tendencies and form a nice little one-two punch, while ‘Rella’ shows they can deliver ‘singles.’ Maybe THAT is why they are so popular. ‘Sam (Is Dead)’, meanwhile, is a great case for the defence against those who think OF simply juvenile controversy mongers. With beats shifting between smooth and malevolent, Tyler’s line about being “a kid in my heart, with problems maturing” feels like youthful confession rather than yet another hollow mea culpa.
A surfeit of ideas and lack of an edit button may have contributed to some underwhelming solo releases, but with Vol 2 a smaller dose of everyone works in the crew’s favour. Chalk that one up as a victory for the music, then — just about.
This post originally appeared on The Stool Pigeon on 23 March 2012