The Internet crafts bedroom R&B so sinuous it wafts out of the booth like purple smoke.
Backlit by basslines as slow and warm as an L.A. sunrise, the group’s grooves owe more than a little to Prince’s scorching soul and the assured sonic strut of ‘90s sirens like Aaliyah and Amel Larrieux. Their lyrics, too — especially when conveyed in low, redolent sighs by lead vocalist Syd Bennett — belong of a piece with that era. So it comes as little surprise that Hive Mind — the group’s supremely smooth fourth album, and first since game-changing 2015 release Ego Death — is really just one long seduction, overflowing with fogged-out funk jams that sustain the illusion of weightlessness even as they work overtime to get you in the right mood.
Few could have predicted such a slickly sensual outfit emerging from the ashes of Odd Future, the recalcitrant hip-hop collective that’s propelled Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, and Frank Ocean to disparate echelons of rap stardom. In those days, Syd tha Kyd — the group’s lone female presence, and back then, its only openly queer member, complicating critiques of its homophobic lyrical content up until her departure — preferred to stay in the shadows, standing quietly composed behind her turntables.
And yet, Syd’s subsequent solo career (including solo trap-R&B output Fin) and collaborations within the Internet (which only fully congealed on Ego Death after coming gradually into focus on a pair of prior records) have been one of the most delightfully unexpected curveballs thrown the music industry’s way by Odd Future’s dissolution. On Hive Mind, her breathy, evasive vocals are often the central enchantment, whether she’s gliding gracefully above a slinky, spiraling guitar riff on in-her-feelings invite “Come Over” or cheekily navigating the temptations of modern dating on R&B deep-cut “Mood” (“My crib is close, I just cleaned,” she murmurs, her voice a confident blur, “I text my bros/ They wish me luck”).
Her bros, of course, aren’t just supportive wingmen. Even more than Ego Death, the Internet’s latest is a team effort, finding a loose-limbed synergy in further foregrounding guitarist/vocalist Steve Lacy, and giving producer/keyboardist Matt Martians free reign to craft some of his most sophisticated soundscapes (the erotic heat rolling off “Next Time/Humble Pie” alone could and probably will power a summer love affair). Bassist Patrick Paige II and preternaturally intuitive drummer Christopher Smith, too, are key to Hive Mind’s central vibe; the former’s lithe fingers hold down a slippery bassline on “Roll (Burbank Funk),” and the latter’s off-kilter arrangements impart a sense of playful erraticism across more experimental tracks like tropical-tinted dance-off “La Di Da” and poised middle-finger “Bravo” (the closest Syd could come to a “Take a Bow” without losing her hardwired cool).
Through 13 tracks, Hive Mind rarely rises above a sultry slow-burn, each members’ contributions swirling in unison to create a collection of sublime funk-R&B flourishes most united by their sense of longing. In an age far removed from the decades that birthed the Internet’s soulful predecessors — where instant gratification has come to function as both a sexual and broader social norm — there’s something enjoyably old-school about Syd’s leisurely approach. She’ll get her satisfaction when she’s good and ready, she seems to insinuate, knowing it’ll be all the sweeter for such blissfully tantric buildup. As such, it’s fitting that, in lieu of delivering a bona fide climax, closer “Hold On” tosses and turns in the shadow of one. Across almost seven minutes of hip-thrusting guitar plucks and cooing come-ons, it affords the group ample room to make one last, irresistible proposition before they fade back into the erotic ether from whence they came. A