Nick Bollinger assesses the post-hip-hop soul of L.A. collective The Internet.
Odd Future was a hip-hop collective from Los Angeles who achieved some local notoriety when they were banned from entering this country a few years back. The concern was around the potential for violence at their shows, while there was also talk of homophobic lyrics. Odd Future have since dissolved, with members going on to other things, and ironically two of the most famous have come out as gay: Frank Ocean, and Syd Bennet, known in her Odd Future days as Syd tha Kyd, now simply as Syd, lead singer and producer with The Internet.
Hive Mind is The Internet’s current album, the fourth they have made since Syd and co-founder Matt Martians jumped the Odd Future ship not long after that New Zealand debacle, and it shows how far she has come from the shock-horror-hip-hop of her old collective.
Essentially this is romantic R&B, of the kind that back in the 70s was sometimes called ‘quiet storm’: music that starts on the dancefloor but eases gradually towards the bedroom. And in seduction songs like these Syd doesn’t disguise the fact that the object of her attentions is female.
Syd is not just the main singer in The Internet; she’s also responsible for much of the writing and production. But though she’s the most visible member, The Internet is very much a group, making the title Hive Mind rather apt. There’s also the multi-talented Martians, who plays everything from keyboards to percussion; bass player Patrick Paige, who elevates many of these tracks with his sprung basslines; and guitarist Steve Lacy, who doubles with Syd as lead singer.
There’s a sweet spot somewhere between the mid-70s and mid-80s that The Internet seem to draw much of their inspiration from. It’s a place where popping basslines were plentiful, and a guitar seemed naked if it wasn’t hooked up to a wah-wah pedal.
But though there are retro elements, The Internet are very much a product of their time. And while there’s not much rap here, save for a bit of freestyling from Lacy, a hip-hop – or perhaps one should say post-hip-hop – sensibility pervades the whole thing. You can hear how hip-hop they get in a track like ‘Bravo’, with Syd providing a heavy, almost-martial drumbeat while Lacy (taking over the bass from Paige) supplies an abstract, wandering bassline. And as in a hip-hop track, it’s all just a rhythmic bed for whatever Bennet has to say.
I love the weird, woozy, elastic feel of that track, and it’s not the only place where The Internet play push-and-pull with the beat. There’s the wonderful ‘Look What U Started’, with another great Lacy bassline, in which the drum measures time like a clock while the other instruments slip and slide around it.
Unlike in hip-hop, The Internet aren’t really going for verbal prowess. Their lyrics, while far from meaningless, often fall back on simple phrases, which melt into the music. The songs are essentially mood pieces, and if the words do little more than articulate the mood, then that is enough.
Chock-full of surprising, funky inventions, Hive Mind is easily the most sustained album this increasingly interesting band has made. Any of the thirteen tracks feels as though it could have gone on longer, and was only interrupted because they had another seductively skewed soul groove they just couldn’t wait to lay on us.