Bridging the Gaps Between The Internet's 'Hive Mind' - DJBooth

Bridging the Gaps Between The Internet's 'Hive Mind'

The Internet know that no connection stays stable without a bit of tinkering.
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As a band, The Internet has always grooved on the frayed ends of love and connectivity. But nowhere in their discography did the funk take hold quite like on their 2013 album, Ego Death. Thumping percussion leads to gossamer choruses on “Get Away,” spectral synth keys lead to hazy interlude walks on “Girl,” and a driving drum and bass rhythm dissolve into shimmering guitar strings over the story of a relationship doomed to fail on “Just Sayin/I Tried.” The quintet found strength in painting every step of the universal language in vibrant shades that owe as much to Maxwell and D’Angelo as they do to A Tribe Called Quest and Mac DeMarco. But the work wasn’t always this cohesive.

Founders and former Odd Future stalwarts Syd Bennett and Matt Martians came up with the group's name after producer Left Brain told a journalist he was “from the internet” during an interview. The side project came to life when the band’s Purple Naked Ladies was released in 2011. A batch of raw, nocturnal love games and missed connections zooted off the thrill of new romance, accented with hazy synths and coos befitting of a 19 and 22-year-old, respectively. The project was a moment you look back on the same way you would that scoop of ice cream that fell on the left shoe of your crush at the local fair the summer before your big high school reinvention: a flurry of emotions that force your focus through some new experiments.

As the years went on, Syd and Matt have learned that steel will continue to sharpen steel. They fleshed out their two-person operation into a full-blown band with bassist/producer Patrick Paige II and drummer/producer Christopher Smith for their 2013 sophomore album Feel Good, a jazzier spin on the sedated bedroom sounds they started off chasing. The songwriting was still honest but lacked the flourish of their newer and groovier soundscapes, a problem that their third album and mainstream breakthrough, the GRAMMY-nominated Ego Death, set out to course correct. There is a night-and-day difference between the subdued come-ons of “Dontcha” and the throbbing funk behind the lust of “Special Affair,” no doubt helped by Syd’s newfound grasp of her vocals and newly minted guitarist Steve Lacy’s silky, distorted strums.

With six members, Ego Death was seemingly the final form they’d been slowly creeping toward for years, their launchpad into the mainstream. But shortly after touring, it also proved to be the motivation they needed to further nurture their individual sounds. Between February 2017 and May 2018, all five remaining members of the group (sans keyboardist Jameel “Kintaro” Bruner, who left the group shortly after Ego Death’s release) dropped their own respective solo projects. Any other group focusing this much energy on solo projects might be cause for alarm, but The Internet know that no connection stays stable without a bit of tinkering.

“When we first sat down to work on Hive Mind, there was just too many ideas because everybody was just amped and needed to get all of that other creative energy out,” Smith told DJBooth in an interview earlier this month. No one in the group was willing to let their love for each other stand in the way of their own musical ambitions. That energy found homes on five albums that expose the core elements of each member’s style and shows exactly how they become more than the sum of their parts within the smoldering confections of Hive Mind

Let’s trace the path to The Internet’s Megazord.

Syd — Fin (2017)

Syd will be the first person to tell you she’s not much of a singer, but her vocal gifts are undeniable. She flits between light and airy falsettos and husky sing-song raps on a dime, refracting music and love stories of all shades around her in ways that would make Aaliyah and Erykah Badu proud. These talents were put to use in deeper waters on her solo debut, Fin, an album that trades in the blacks and blues depicted on the cover. 

The nocturnal habits of Purple Naked Ladies are turned on their head with crisp and focused love stories over booming and submersive beats. Syd is dodging public eyes after a hookup one minute (“Know”) and bushwacking space for steamy same-sex slow jams at radio and everywhere else the next (“Drown In It,” “Body”). “All About Me” keeps one lover at arm’s length while “Insecurities” confides so completely in another that she feels just compelled enough to stay for all her effort. That voice is more powerful and necessary than she thinks.

Some of Syd’s insecurities survived the transition to Hive Mind, but so did her sharpened songwriting skills and continued zeal for love. The budding romance of Fin cuts “Nothin to Somethin’” and “Smile More” dovetail beautifully with the sweeter pining of “Come Over” and “Stay the Night.” Nights of Netflix and floor play seem impossible under the weight of a missed connection on “Next Time,” before the beat morphs into a spacious thump (akin to Fin’s “Over”) as Syd vows to put down that plate of “Humble Pie” on the song’s second half. “Bravo” proves that she’s been scorned too many times to not have a middle finger ready when she’s betrayed, but the awkward date of “Mood” proves that she’s only growing more patient. That patience continues to push her songwriting and vocals to new peaks. 

Syd told The FADER that Fin was her “descent into the depth I want the band to get to,” and her fidelity to unabashed queer and Black love remains the beacon that helps Hive Mind shine at its brightest.

Matt Martians — The Drum Chord Theory (2017)

Haze and fuzz are Matt Martians’ stock and trade as a musician. His keys have both transported listeners to space as one-half of the Jet Age of Tomorrow and grounded the ambitions of The Internet in the funk and soul that they’ve been chasing since the beginning. Martians’ solo venture, The Drum Chord Theory, cranks his love for distorted space up to 11 and paints his own journey into and out of love in broad, acid-orange strokes.

Steady funk grooves drive just about every song here, but all the other instruments are layered on top of each other, almost tripping over crashes and beats to get inside your ears. His adroit N.E.R.D and of Montreal fan worship ensures that new ideas tumble in before we can process the old ones, which boosts his whispered chants and hums into warm stabs at summer loving like “Spend the Night / If You Were My GF” and the undeniable bop “Diamond in da Ruff.” But “Southern Isolation” is where Martians’ form and the seductive content perfect their lockstep, melting into drippy guitar strums and hand drum slaps that would sound at home in any room with a blacklight. This album is what a summer fling sounds like.

That warm energy can be felt all across Hive Mind. The cacophony of tracks like opener “Come Together” and disco homage “La Di Da” feel airlifted from Drum Chord’s kitchen-sink production hole. His keys twinkle and his programmed drums snap and thump, particularly on “Come Over” and the tribal hip-hop stomp of “Next Time / Humble Pie.” Martians’ arranging hand is one of the two scoops of sunshine that give Hive Mind that lovely August glow.

Steve Lacy — Steve Lacy's Demo (2017)

The newest member in a band this big always has something to prove. Lacy's slick guitar skills and love of distortion earned him a spot in Syd’s studio and a production credit for Kendrick Lamar’s “PRIDE.” before he had even graduated high school; whatever solo effort blossomed from all of that would undoubtedly turn heads.

Steve Lacy’s Demo was his first show after Ego Death, a “song series” that traveled down the same summery musical roads as The Drum Chord Theory, albeit with more guitar strums on the edge of silk and crunch. Lacy compresses his sound further than ever here—the project is six songs and just under 14 minutes—but Demo is so alive with music and feeling that it’s hard to believe it was crafted almost entirely with an iPhone. Funk seethes through Lacy’s pleas for a lover to not give up on their relationship (“Dark Red,” “Thangs”) while the backing vocals and distorted swing of closer “Some” would make even Prince blush. Demo is brief in the best possible ways; bits and pieces of tangy love set to start cuffing season off a little early.

Lacy’s remarkable guitar licks and production gained even more shine on Kali Uchis’ Isolation ("Just a Stranger") and as executive producer on Ravyn Lenae’s Crush EP from earlier this year, but he finds a perfect parallel in Syd on Hive Mind. His quick hook on the backend of “Come Over” tosses vanity to the wind over power chords and thumping drums that parallel the smoother nature of Syd’s ballad. This and roller disco joint “Roll (Burbank Funk)” prove how good of a foil Lacy’s voice is to Syd’s, making the song even more kaleidoscopic. He’s standing on the opposite side of Demo tracks like “Dark Red” on the echoing “Beat Goes On,” lamenting on how being a touring musician keeps him from establishing new love: “I don’t wanna hear you tell me you told me so.”

There isn’t a single track where you don’t hear Lacy’s guitar in one way or another; it’s smooth and funky on “Roll” and “La Di Da,” and it paints the background of “Stay the Night” and “Bravo," bringing a cool breeze to an otherwise warm nighttime embrace. Lacy’s guitar and vocal work are ever-growing flashes in The Internet’s pan.

Patrick Paige II — Letters of Irrelevance (2018)

Patrick Paige’s voice rarely extended beyond the music on earlier Internet albums, but the title of his solo debut said more than anyone could’ve anticipated. Letters of Irrelevance finds comfort in the confessional and moody, steeped in Paige’s bass work and straight-from-the-diary introspection. “Writing is the only place I feel safe enough to be vulnerable,” he admits on “The Best Policy,” sandwiched between ramblings about capitalism, the bombing of Syria, and the tug of war between old relationships and new flings. 

The project’s honesty proves to be a double-edged sword; Paige is still finding his voice as a rapper and his bars shift between well-practiced arguments in front of the mirror and clippings from six different lovelorn composition pads. The music is the real treat of Letters. Jazz stews steeped in the teachings of Dilla and D’Angelo, anchored by the hard bounce of Paige’s seasoned bass fingers. It’s a noble first step into the spotlight for an artist not used to that kind of pressure.

It’s clear that Paige relishes being in the background because his low end is the driving force behind Hive Mind’s music. “Roll” and “La Di Da” wouldn’t snap the way they do without his elastic fret runs and the slower cuts (“Stay the Night,” “Bravo,” etc.) would be missing much of their richness without his slower notes. His sound is both omniscient and low-key, the smooth chocolate current running through the body of a Ben & Jerry’s pint.

C&T — Loud (2017)

Christopher Smith has brought hard drums and spacey production flourishes to The Internet since Feel Good, effects that he pushes to the extreme on Loud. 

Smith and collaborator T’Challa King’s work glitches along the edges of R&B and trip-hop like a radio dial stuck between drummer Chris Davis and Flying Lotus. Smith’s drums breathe with purpose on every track, cutting through the disorienting haze of shared mango and romantic entanglement that defines so much millennial city living. Smith and King’s pairing is intoxicating and completely overwhelming, a dome of digital funk that cracks to reveal bits of light in the code.

Smith took the most risks of any of his bandmates, indulging sounds that don’t fully make the transition to Hive Mind. The crisp clap of his live drums on tracks like “La Di Da” and “It Gets Better” lift the digital dome of Loud, especially compared to Martians’ programmed drums elsewhere on the album. The fresh pop of Smith’s drums creates pockets for every other instrument to slip into and walls to keep them there. The rhythm of love is what keeps The Internet on its axis, the true Megazord shell keeping this Hive Mind intact. 

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