Favourite Tracks: Come Together, La Di Da, Mood, Next Time/Humble Pie, It Gets Better (With Time)
The Internet is a band that straddles the alternative hip-hop world of their Odd Future origins and a host of influences from the LA jazz scene, classic R&B and the recent neo-soul resurgence. Hive Mind signals the end of the band’s curiously-timed hiatus at the peak of their success following a Grammy nomination from their breakthrough 2015 record, Ego Death, in order for members to pursue various solo projects (such as the psychedelic synth-heavy The Drum Chord Theory and Christopher A. Smith’s brilliantly weird Loud).
This record – their fourth so far – is a welcome return to form for The Internet. It is a real feature for the band itself with its only guest appearance being a verse from Atlanta native Big Rube. This is in stark comparison to Ego Death’s feature-heavy tracklist which included Janelle Monáe, KAYTRANADA, Vic Mensa, and Tyler, The Creator.
Hive Mind opens with the aptly-named ‘Come Together’. The brilliantly-groovy intro sets the pace for the rest of the project. A fast two-bar samba bass line, complete with handclaps and a taste of Moonchild’s Andris Mattson’s flugelhorn introduce the track before the texture suddenly drops into the half-time neo-soul groove that the band is known for. Throughout the track, Matt Martians’ deep vibrato synths provide a retro aesthetic to the otherwise very contemporary music.
‘Roll (Burbank Funk)’, the album’s main single, is a disco tune at its core. The looped drums and bassline give a club-friendly backing to Steve Lacy and Syd’s ambient, delay-heavy vocals, and Martians’ spacey Rhodes chords. ‘Come Over’ utilises a similar texture of looped drums, but with a live bass track which gives vitality to a perhaps otherwise forgettable track. The production is, however, brilliantly creative. For instance, one of the snare samples sounds like Matt Martians is chopping carrots, and the mellotron choir during the chorus is exactly what is needed to pad out the sound. A bizarre skit in the final quarter of the track introduces a short groove, clearly in the style of Thundercat, whose influence overflows into the next track, ‘La Di Da’, where Thundercat’s signature sound has informed Lacy’s guitar production. This track has to be one of the best on the album. With an excellent laid-back Latin groove throughout, the breakdown feels almost like a salsa mambo – except for Lacy’s Backstreet Boys-style spoken address to the ‘ladies’ which brings it back to R&B.
‘Stay the Night’ is the first downtempo track on the record, underscored by a light cross-rhythmic texture between the half-time 3+3+2 guitar accents and the 4×4 drums and vocals. Here, the two guitar solos (though excellent) feel unnecessary structurally, and take away from the overall mood of the song. Perhaps a deviation from the eight-bar loop at some point would have been a better way to keep the track interesting, but overall it is a nice contrast in terms of the album as a whole.
‘Bravo’ is another slower track, but here there is a clearer groove provided by the wonky programmed drums and yet another delicious Patrick Paige II bassline, mixed brilliantly by studio legend Jimmy Douglass AKA ‘The Senator.’ There are even what seem to be sleigh bells deep in the mix. Why? Well, why not? This is The Internet, where vibe and coolness are primary. ‘Let me get you in the right mood’, sings Syd in the next track, ‘Mood’. Featuring a return of the Mellotron choir, Moonchild horns, muted bass, and modulated guitar, this is one of the strongest tracks on the album.
‘Next Time / Humble Pie’ is a diptych which marks the halfway point of the album. Each half serves to highlight the different styles of the primary instrumentalists Steve Lacy and Matt Martians respectively. ‘Next Time’ is an up-tempo modern classic R&B love song, with a looped foundation and strummed guitar chords and stops. Humble Pie is a rewarding, psychedelic and spacey compliment to this. With long-form syncopations a la ‘Stay the Night’ and retro string samples punctuated by a low key drum loop made up of hi-hats (panned left) and an up-pitched snare (panned right). The panning serves to avoid giving the song too much of a groove-focus with the spacey synth textures ad effected vocals at the centre.
The second half of the album opens with the smooth ‘It Gets Better (With Time)’. As well as featuring the Big Rube verse, this is the first time we hear bassist Patrick Paige II drop some spoken-word style rap halfway through. The heavy 4×4 kick of the next track, ‘Look What U Started’, rather than giving it a heavy overall vibe is in something of a conflict with the sparsely textured verses (often just bass and vocals). By the chorus, this is resolved as Matrians’ keys and Lacy’s guitar balance out the texture, creating one of the most readily danceable tracks on the record (despite its slow tempo). Nevertheless, this track still seems to leave something more to be desired.
‘Wanna Be’ is a welcome contrast for the final part of the album. The tightly swung groove and catchy Erykah Badu-esque vocals give this an undeniable classic neo-soul sound with a retro vibe. There is even a Motown 4×4 snare in the chorus! ‘The Beat Goes On’, a testament to the track’s own rhythmic persistence as well as the emotionless trudging forward of time, is another two-part track. The first half is defined by Christopher Smith’s semiquaver hi-hats with Lacy returning on lead vocals. The second half is a lively 150-bpm breakbeat-heavy contrast with a repetitive hook based on the same idea, and is very different to much of the rest of the album.
The album ends with its longest track, ‘Hold On’: a standard neo-soul tune with plenty of synthy textures and punctuations, as well as a notably reverbed plucked guitar line. Speaking of reverb, the drums are given a lovely extra punch with some sort of gated reverbed effect on the kick and snare. This is the final track to include Moonchild’s Max Bryk (saxes) and Andris Mattson (trumpet) which add a brilliant extra layer to an already top-drawer album-closer, despite its questionable length.
All in all, Hive Mind is a great returning statement from the Internet. The focus on the soul sound and rejection of the hip-hop style they were first known for was a risk. Consequently, they are obviously less comfortable in this new mode, and many tracks appear rather formulaic and tiresome when listened to in the wrong context. Ego Death remains their best project yet, mostly due to standout singles like ‘Girl’ which KAYTRANADA’s superior production does wonders for. Nonetheless, it is a solid effort and worth a listen, even if only until their next record comes out.