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That the release of ‘Doris’ can be described as “highly anticipated” is an understatement. After making a powerful presence among the Odd Future collective on his demo ‘EARL,’ he was sent to a Samoan boarding school by his mother, where we were left without much further testament to the skill of the young rapper. While group ringleader Tyler, The Creator feels free to go Pete Wentz-ing it up, it was the stability of Earl’s lyricism that provided the foundation of Wolf Gang’s initial success, but it’s only natural to wonder if the fanfare was just hype, or maybe he was just a fluke. Would this LP prove that any cracks that might have shown on ‘EARL’ widen and lead to this record falling apart? Would he surpass his legend and stand high with his OF comrades, whose profiles have only increased since his hiatus?

The answer lies somewhere in between. While Tyler, The Creator’s bombast carries him along far enough for most people to look past the sometimes shallow lyrics and lame production, and other factions in the group like Mellohype and The Internet can often be hit-or-miss, comparatively, Earl matches and surpasses in a number of cases when it comes to lyrical depth, instrumental kinetics, and tight production work. On the other hand, he doesn’t really show himself to be the better musician of any of the group. Among the best, yes, but not the best. Perhaps it’s his time away from the music game, perhaps he was never all that comfortable when he didn’t have someone else to lean on, but I feel like the amount of time Earl actually raps on this album is maybe 65% of the time. There are so many guest voices lending a hand, but his confidence as a solo artist doesn’t come off as convincing when he’s passing the mic around so often, and it really brings the quality of the album down when they’re not really even that compelling themselves.

“Burgundy,” for example, could be incredibly cheesy at times. “Don’t nobody care ‘bout how you feel/we want raps,” goes the song towards the start, and it continues on with a ho-hum reflection about the expectations of his career and the duress of his experiences growing up that got him to that one. The flow picks up impressively towards the end, but, here as with the album as a whole, it’s the instrumentals that steal the show, the horns making a big deal whole being supplemented by synth undertones. “Sunday,” featuring Odd Future’s main crossover hero Frank Ocean, has not only some of the best lyrics, but also one of the only really visible hooks on the album; “all my dreams got more vivid when I stop smoking pot/nightmares got more vivid when I start smoking pot/loving you’s a little different, I don’t like you a lot” is a series of lines that really sticks with you. The organ and sparse guitar complement the pensive mood perfectly, making this into an obvious standout track.

“Hive” and its distorted bass line brings the menace hard, lurching its way through lines that demonstrate Earl’s wordplay at its finest, showing him experimenting with just about any way he can think of to make words rhyme. “Chum,” his definitive comeback track, is a moving autobiographical story, from his lifetime of dealing with his father leaving him, to his friendship with Tyler, to his relationship with the harsh reality of contemporary Los Angeles. The repetitive, melancholy piano and the whispering, synthetic voices complement the picture of a damaged young man and his attempts to cope. The ending is kind of bizarre and feels tacked on for no apparent reason, but it doesn’t detract much. Tyler, The Creator seems weirdly out of place on “Sasquatch,” being typical Tyler and bringing some characteristic Tyler production on the instrumentals, and the track comes off as little more than a novelty. “Centurion” is another great example of how skilled Earl is with crafting instrumental tracks into mood-setters, feeling like a surreal analog backdrop to a gritty stage drama. Lyrics feel secondary, but the mood is so palpable that doesn’t seem like such a negative thing, serving just as much as anything else to produce gut feelings in the listener.

The last half of the album kind of drops off, really. Mac Miller guests on “Guild,” and he brings his typical shallowness to the game here, bringing down an already-uninteresting track with meaningless lyrics and boring, unenthusiastic flow. “Molasses” features Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, which lends some major credibility to the album, but it feels weird for him to fit so perfectly into the Odd Future style. It works, but he doesn’t lend anything characteristic of his work. “Whoa” sees Tyler fulfill the role of big brother that Earl claimed he was on “Chum,” injecting a confidence and swagger into the track that “Sasquatch” did not, while still boasting a questionable at best backing track. “Hoarse” has its moment but is mostly forgettable, and “Knight” seems like a perfectly fine way to end the album, but doesn’t have much to stand on on its own.

With ‘Doris,’ Earl shows himself to be back, and not a force to be taken likely, but he does not come back a conqueror. It boosts his profile by proving he wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan figure and rounds out Odd Futures oeuvre, but it doesn’t increase his legend so much as sustain it, which seems oddly lacking in 2013 given what has happened since he’s been away. Tyler remains the focal point, Frank Ocean steals the show in regards to artistry, and the other guys continue to plug away at what they do best, but while ‘Doris’ is a good album, somehow I don’t feel that it’s the groundbreaking album it might have been.


Recommended Tracks:  Burgundy, Sunday, Hive, Chum, Centurion

GRADE: 7.6/10