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The Internet - Hive Mind (Album Review)

Thursday, 02 August 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Photo: Alan Lear

It's been fascinating to track the Internet's transition from OFWGKTA side project to fully fledged neo-soul outfit over the past few years. Sure, the various members of the west coast jam band could always play assuredly, but their first two records were marred by the same juvenile lyrics and rigid production styles that held their ‘parent’ group back.

That changed with the recruitment of young guitarist Steve Lacy for the 2015 LP 'Ego Death' – his liberated style of playing not only inspired the instrumentalists to raise their game but unleashed lead vocalist Syd's best creative impulses. Much has been made about the band's intention to make follow-up 'Hive Mind' a truly democratic project and, to be fair, all five members have writing credits and their own scattered highlights.

In truth, though, most of the tracks live or die by the success of Syd and Lacy's interplay, and their best moments are the album's best moments. Some of that has to do with the band's sound: funky yet minimalist, syncopated yet smooth, groove-driven but rarely danceable.

It's natural and easy on the ear but the group do rely on the lead duo to bring tracks to life. The album's best cut, Roll (Burbank Funk), is a joyous example as Lacy seizes attention with a Prince-esque lick and an earthy hook while Syd delivers a soaring harmonic line.

She's also at her best when she unashamedly seizes the limelight, a trait somewhat lacking on her solo project 'Fin'. The LGBT anthem It Gets Better is a particularly gripping example of her ability to belt out, jump octaves and communicate life-affirming words directly to the listener. Meanwhile, Lacy's jangly progression nods along, providing the perfect counterbalance.

These moments of magic aside, what elevates the rest of the record is the marked improvement in the quality of the grooves. Bassist Patrick Paige's style might be unassuming but he anchors moments that might feel unstructured otherwise, particularly Neptunes-esque cuts like La Di Da and Next Time / Humble Pie. At other points, it's on Syd to add some thematic purpose and her playful lyrics (see, for example, “we can play Simon Says or watch TV in bed” on Come Over) transform pleasant instrumentals into something more memorable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the quality occasionally drops when such jams run adrift. The album might breeze by over the course of an hour, but it could quite easily be 20 minutes shorter if there wasn't such a tendency to fill gaps with aimless riffs and bold rhythm changes. So while the disco-flavoured Beat Goes On is a subtle but absorbing change of pace, the snare-heavy Bravo feels like an unnecessary and sonically dissonant deviation that doesn't fit the programme.

Such dips aside, 'Hive Mind' is the Internet's most fluid and coherent release precisely because they've learned the value of hanging back and letting the lead protagonists do their thing. A greater awareness of production and instrumental balance proves to be greatly beneficial. If anything, the five-piece could risk trimming even more because the results on future efforts could be genuinely enthralling.

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