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The Internet - Hive Mind Music Album Reviews

The fourth album from the R&B collective is a peak example of their combined powers. It simplifies their sound with soft-focus blues, plush arrangements, and deep-in-the-ground grooves.

The Internet had their big breakthrough with 2015’s spaced-out hip-hop soul epic Ego Death and with its Grammy nomination, they entered into a new echelon where the Miguels and the Weeknds of the world reside. Then, near the peak of their power as an R&B band smudging the lines between rap and funk and jazz, they separated last year to focus on individual projects.

It was a curious decision for a group that had been steadily building momentum for five years, having finally solidified its core creative lineup: The Internet started as a refuge for Odd Future also-rans Syd and Matt Martians and across three increasingly better albums came to include bassist Patrick Paige II, drummer Christopher Smith, and singer-songwriter-producer Steve Lacy. Solo projects can lead to destructive infighting about control, but the Internet seem to be different; after all, they did name their breakout after the term for the rejection of a self-centered existence. Time away from working collectively has only strengthened the bond that powers their songs.

Their fourth album, Hive Mind, is an act of collective conviction. It simplifies and shores up the Internet sound with soft-focus blues, plush arrangements, and deep-in-the-ground grooves. The beats are shapelier, more boldly defined, and yet they still have the capacity to bleed into each other. “They gon’ get us to come together,” a chorus of voices sings on the album’s opening song, each utterance louder than the one before. And just as the title implies, they are more in sync here than ever.

The songs on Hive Mind are more deliberate than those on Ego Death, less likely to liquify into sticky funk codas. The two-act game of cat-and-mouse “Next Time / Humble Pie” is a gorgeous model of the band’s evolution into a singular organism; the song is split in half but the parts are interlinked, mirroring each other. The groovy, Martians-led “Beat Goes On” cracks open to reveal an alternate, ghostly drum ‘n’ bass interpretation. These moments feel less like songs devolving into jam session or rearranging into something wholly distinct from what came before. Instead, they are of a piece with what preceded them, mesmerizing blooms and curves in the arrangements that never sacrifice a song’s momentum. Though less of an odyssey, Hive Mind presents a more holistic sound, the band’s members convening around the presence of their effortlessly cool frontperson Syd.

Syd has been an epigrammatic songwriter since the band’s 2013 litmus test, Feel Good, but her time alone on last year’s Fin shaved her love songs down to their thrilling sparks. Where listening to her previous intimate exchanges on Internet songs felt like eavesdropping or catching a glimpse of a text chain in the periphery, such moments on Hive Mind are less concealed without feeling less sacred. The writing is less distinctive and sometimes less specific, but more inviting.

Her quiet turns are even leaner than in the past, jumping straight into the action. “Thinking ahead of time/Why don’t you spend the night/I know you love me,” she sings on the nearly seven-minute closer “Hold On.” “We can book a flight/Wake up in paradise/Sun up above us.” These are cut-to-the-chase expressions of interest that are frank about exactly what Syd is after; blunt even for a woman who once sang, “I can read your mind even from behind/And fuck what’s in your phone, lemme take you home.” There is significantly less room for small talk, for being clever. “This back and forth is energy wasted,” she explains on “Next Time.” Even when there’s friction, she’s only willing to spare but so many words.

So much of the Internet’s appeal is still wrapped up in Syd’s vocals, which smear across hard, smacking basslines and rap-savvy drum programming. Sometimes her voice is a whimper, other times her volume is barely louder than a hum; both enhance her tales of intimacy. The accelerated relationship timeline of “Mood” is presented in tiny, evocative vignettes that Syd teases out across dribbling, staccato croons. Through breathy, low-toned melodies, “Wanna Be” plots on turning a longtime friend into a lover: “I think she wants to be [my girl],” she sighs. “At least I hope she does, shit.” With Syd as their laconic storyteller, navigating modern romances and late-night temptation, the band is mastering the funk jam as a nocturne.

There isn’t a single note or riff on the album that feels contrived or forced, and the entire thing is incredibly smooth and unsegmented, an endless string of hook-ups blurring together. Steve Lacy sings more, Martians serves as the band’s utility player (keyboard on some songs, drums on others, even contributing the occasional synth line), and everyone else contributes in ways beyond their official position within the band. The aim is to have everything happen as naturally as possible, “like, ‘Who has a drum loop they’ve made? Pull it out, let’s put some chords over it and go from there!’” Syd told Entertainment Weekly. This egalitarian spirit and anti-hierarchical approach to song-making fuel the sleekest, most robust music of their career.

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