The L.A. jazz/funk/soul/hip-hop Renaissance that began at the dawn of this decade, continues to form new shapes in 2018. You saw a few in February on the Top Dawg Entertainment/Kendrick-Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack. “After the Storm” this Spring, Colombian-born/Los Angeles-based Kali Uchis, with assists from Tyler the Creator and Bootsy Collins, emerged from Isolation with a debut album that is among the year’s best. On June 1st came current Supreme Leader of Saxophone Kamasi Washington’s epic-length attempt to move Heaven and Earth.
Now deep into the dawg days of Summer, Syd Tha Kid and her dawgs in The Internet are back, with the latest contribution from a Los Angeleno Musical Maestro hive-mind, the heady-and-sweaty Hive Mind. Like 2015’s Grammy-nominated Ego Death, it’s sure to make its multiplying fanbase “heel up, wheel up, bring it back, come rewind.”
The aforementioned L.A. scene primarily springs from a few prominent roots: Kendrick/T.D.E. on the hip-hop end, the West-Coast Get Down collective on the jazz side, while somewhere occupying the weirdness in-between is the Odd Future that Tyler created.
26-year-old Sydney “Syd” Bennett emerged first as DJ for Odd Future during its infancy. In 2011, Syd, utilizing keyboard chops honed as a student at Hamilton High School’s Music Academy, partnered with producer Matt Martians to form The Internet. Early returns, i.e. the digital-released debut Purple Naked Ladies (2011), showed promise but were relatively inauspicious. This was to be expected. Odd Future during their initial Tumblr trajectory were more impactful as a concept than a musical catalog. And with Syd only 19 and Martians 21, a “band” more in theory than practice, The Internet ironically had to grow up on the internet.
A full-time drummer (Christopher Smith) and bassist (Patrick Page II) were added for 2013’s Feel Good, featuring a breakout single “Dontcha” blessed by The Neptunes’ Chad Hugo. By the time teenage wunderkind guitarist/singer/iPhone-recording-auteur Steve Lacy joined the fold in 2015, The Internet had become a thing capable of making the music snobs sing.
Hive Mind is The Internet’s fourth album, and their first since extensively touring the world in 2016 as a five-piece unit. Perhaps even more notably, it’s their first since Syd’s public break-up with the Odd Future Gang with whom she grew up. Apparently being the lone female/lesbian wolf in that pack’s hive mind can become a grind.
Syd’s personal and professional growth continued during The Internet’s 2017 extended hiatus, on her solo debut Fin (#7 on this author’s Top-17-of-’17). That album, even more than Ego Death, informs the direction this now well-oiled machine would go next. Syd, not a “natural singer” in the church-trained tradition, comes more from the Aaliyah/Brandy school of emoting than Aretha/Whitney. But the confidence she’s developed in the studio and onstage, as a front-woman now in her mid-twenties, has meant that vocally “It Gets Better (With Time).” A voice that in 2011 too often murmured and whispered, now finds ways to soar and roar.
Unlike Fin though, this is not just Syd’s show. Lacy, who released a 2017 project of his own (the Steve Lacy’s Demo EP) co-authors every track, while contributing vocals (including two leads) to four cuts, plus some blistering guitar lines, like an iPhone Ernie Isley on his “Come Over” solo. Page lays down chunky-ass basslines throughout, particularly on the lead single “Roll (Burbank Funk)” coming soon to a skating party near you. Even Dungeon Family OG/Poet Laureate Big Rube rolls thru to baptize this younger, philosophically-simpatico crew.
Co-founder Martians is less prominent in the liner notes than he was back when The Internet was just two. Still, he rotates between five different instruments here, finding a myriad of ways to play get in where you fit in, particularly on the propulsive “Beat Goes On.” That particular song features a switch-up midway thru that will throw listeners for a spacey-drum-and-bass-y loop. Some might even hear a hint of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Sucka N*gg@” buried in there.
By the time we arrive at lucky thirteen, the Xannie-bar-pillow-cloud-coming-down song suite “Hold On” which concludes the proceedings for this go-round, it feels like a well-earned exhalatory stretching out. Somehow, The Internet are still pioneering how to sound like an R&B garage band, while being organically grown online. Here’s another helping of “Humble Pie” to stimulate your Dirty Mind.
Perhaps what’s most encouraging is that while Hive Mind elevates and updates their formulas, it’s still very clearly not the band’s final step. What will eventually be the best album by The Internet is the one they haven’t made yet. But in the meantime, the in-between time, like the soundtrack to your 2018 Summertime, let’s consider ourselves blessed, and take what we can get.
Notable Tracks: “Come Over” | “It Gets Better (With Time)” | “Roll (Burbank Funk)”