No one expected the rambunctious rap collective Odd Future to spawn a great soft-soul outfit, but that’s exactly what the Internet, fronted mostly by Odd Future alumna Syd, have become.
Hive Mind, the group’s 4th LP, is its most polished, full of tranquil, yearning Quiet Storm and light-footed, live-band funk. The album plays as an extended conversation between Syd’s vocals – hyper-annunciated but gooey around the edges, massed and draped like a rumpled pile of sheets – and her rhythm section, especially the basslines of Patrick Paige II, which burrow, strut and stagger all within the space of a few bars. If the drums on Hive Mind were mixed slightly lower than is typical in modern recordings, many of the songs could play easily after R&B radio staples: Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place” followed by the Internet’s “Hold On,” Sade’s “By Your Side” into “Stay the Night.”
For “Mood,” a particularly impressive track, the Internet reach back to a rich category of R&B records popular between, say, 1976 and 1984, when virtuosic musicians would end a song with a magnificent left turn, pivoting into a vamp that functioned almost as a completely different tune (think Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life” or Luther Vandross’ “A House Is Not a Home”). In “Mood,” the Internet’s stubborn, scrubbing funk abruptly gives way to a pretty duet between Syd’s layered vocals and muted horns. As she repeats a promise to a lover, the arrangement gains power and complexity behind her, with new chords buttressing the swelling melody and a second wave of brass parts joining the fray. You could stay suspended in this vamp for many more minutes.
Suspension is another cohesive force on Hive Mind. Syd is often focused on seduction – she is openly gay, and addresses her boasts and entreaties to women – but much of Hive Mind exists in a tantalizing state of longing. The singer persuades and cajoles and flirts in the hopes of future satisfaction: “If you just let me come over, babe;” “Maybe you should just stay the night;” “I just hope you know that it gets better with time;” “I’m tryna get you in the right mood.”
But just as this band understands how to communicate the pulse-quickening effects of unfulfilled desire, they’re acutely aware of old-school performance dynamics, which ultimately lead to a gratifying conclusion. So they treat you to “Hold On,” the rapturous bubble of deep soul that closes Hive Mind. “You got me on a cloud now, baby,” Syd sings. “Feels almost like a dream.” That’s as good a description of the Internet’s impact as any.