The Internet Deliver a Dose of Deconstructed Funk With ‘Hive Mind’
L.A.’s The Internet might be the most excitingly off-kilter group to emerge from the ever-adventurous hip-hop collective Odd Future. Their name is well-fitting, as the music seems removed from the realm of the immediate, filtered through various tangled, shiny avenues. It’s the cryptic gestalt of five musicians channeling R&B and hip-hop vibes in a distinctively millennial manner. The group’s 2011 debut, “Purple Naked Ladies,” was a collection of sci-fi beat experiments, and 2015’s “Ego Death” saw the band finding a new voice, with singer Syd’s voice featuring more prominently, and a more identifiably band-centered approach. The latest album, “Hive Mind” picks up where that record left off, and sets off on a wild, funky ride into the stratosphere.
Opener “Come Together” immediately establishes a mood that persists throughout the record. It’s breezy and open, and somewhat unsettling, in that it feels vaguely incomplete — like an idea hinted at, rather than fully realized. At first, one might expect that this is just an intro concept, and that things will take off properly come the next track. But one after another, each song has the same feel. Eventually, the sound sinks in, and The Internet’s one-of-a-kind aesthetic takes shape; it’s a whole new approach to music. Rather than songs that give off vibes, these are captured vibes that vaguely approach some semblance of songs.
Bassist Patrick Paige II plays a very prominent role in this band. It’s a testament to how much difference bass can make. Rather than withering in obscurity, as it usually does in popular music, the low end is front and center, and it serves to reorient the whole sonic landscape. Syd’s vocals are breathy and so heavily layered that the lyrics are often indecipherable. Occasional distinguishable words surface from a cloudy haze of winding, meandering melodies and adlibs in an impressionistic, cartoon future hip-hop universe.
The lead single, “Roll (Burbank Funk)” features guitarist Steve Lacy on vocals with Syd on backup. The whole song is essentially one loop, playing like a snapshot of a party in soft focus. It’s a band playing like a DJ, in the tradition of The Roots. “Come Over” has a similarly loop-based approach, with a ridiculously funky riff from Lacy that sounds like it’s being played with a wide grin. Syd sounds decidedly feminine, as always, but takes on the role of pursuer, shaking up gender roles, with lyrics like, “We can play Simon Says / Or watch TV in bed,” an interesting variation on “Netflix and chill.” The main song comes to closure, and an unrelated interlude finishes the track, with Lacy singing, “These bitches want diamond rings… I just don’t feel the same / Vanity’s not my thing,” a refreshing sentiment in a genre where materialism is presumed. The funk keeps coming on “La Di Da,” a dancefloor rejection anthem with the words, “I just came to dance… But not with you.” Ouch.
“Stay the Night” is a soulful number in which Syd repeats the titular line over angular chords that dart like shots in the dark over a luscious harmonic tapestry. The record continues in the same mood, and at this point, The Internet has really put a stamp on their sound. It’s like a commercial for something like “Late Night Deep Grooves,” with looped Soul Train footage. “Bravo” features an undeviating, overbearing snare, so strangely loud in the mix that it comes across as quite avant garde. The album is full of interesting stylistic sonic choices like this, particularly on the part of drummer Christopher Smith, who generally sets into a machine-like groove, and sticks to basics, but colors the picture with the timbre of his kit, with spastic hi-hats on “Mood” and taut rimshots on “Next Time Humble Pie.” The latter is one of many songs on the record that switches mid-track into another song altogether. “It Gets Better,” another of these, ends with an interlude featuring spoken word artist Big Rube of the Dungeon Family collective. Any fans of the early/mid Outkast sound will be in for a real treat.
If it were possible to be too chill, this would be the sound. The album is smooth and subdued from beginning to end, sure to keep you swaying and smiling. The songs are all deconstructed, spacey, and unbelievably funky, with echoes of The Pharcyde, Gorillaz, and certainly the whole Okayplayer universe. But The Internet consistently inhabit the space that all of those artists delve into only in their exceptionally adventurous moments. “Hive Mind” is a bold, thoroughly realized record from a band with a sound of its own.
“Hive Mind” is available July 20 on Apple Music.