Hive Mind suggests conformity and homogeneity, but the title of the Internet‘s latest album is more concerned with the emotional range of the musicians behind the moniker. Lyrics take a backseat to glitzy instrumentals, feathered vocals, sharp strings, cathartic drums, and lavish production, forging connections as complex as the computer network they’re named after. Just in time to soundtrack the rest of your summer, the California five-piece is finally realizing the prismatic neo-soul blueprinted on 2015’s Grammy-nominated Ego Death.
The Internet began as a duo in 2011 when vocalist Syd and producer Matt Martians branched out of Odd Future, bringing on Patrick Paige II (bass), Christopher Smith (drums), and Tay Walker (keys) to release Purple Naked Ladies, a first exploration of melodic, electric soul funk. Two years later, Feel Good stripped some of the synth noise that tilted their debut towards the intergalactic. Follow-up Ego Death marked the departure of Walker and the addition of Steve Lacy (guitar) and Jameel Bruner (keys), allowing the group to fill out the multi-dimensional palette necessary to frame Syd’s chronicles of love, and added guest features from Janelle Monáe, Vic Mensa, Tyler the Creator, and—most notably—Kaytranada on “Girl.” That lush, soft-spoken passion anthem landed at #19 on Billboard‘s Adult R&B Songs chart, a first encounter with commercial success for a group better known to a crowd already hip to their Odd Future association.
Three years later, Hive Mind proves to be the Internet’s most intricate and visceral full-length yet, an evolution made possible by a series of solo projects issued in the interim. Syd released the sultry, futuristic debut Fin; Lacy put out a collection of breezy guitar demos and produced on projects by Kali Uchis, Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator, and Ravyn Lenae; Martians released the percussion-heavy The Drum Chord Theory; Paige showcased his bass lines and lyricism on Letters of Irrelevance; and Smith took on vocals on the electro-soaked Loud. “It just made sense to get that excess creative energy out so we could all come back to the group project with a clear mind,” Smith told DJ Booth. Their mutual growth is tangible: For the first time, the new album has no guest appearances and no outside production. The Internet’s vision is refined but remains as experimental as ever, with vocals by Lacy, Thomas, and Martians widening the scope of a narrative previously focused on Syd.
Bookends “Come Together” and “Hold On” are tender reminders of togetherness, as Syd’s voice echoes around gentle claps and steady atmospheric guitar. “They’re going to get us to come together,” she and Lacy loop on the intro to the former. “So hold on / Can’t stop love,” Syd preaches gently on the latter. Sandwiched in between are songs that alternate in rhythm from the hazy disco of “Roll (Burbank Funk),” with a sample of Gaz’s “Sing Sing” as its retro heartbeat, to the aptly named “Mood,” which plays out Syd’s plan of conquest around Lacy’s bubbly guitar. “Try to get you in the right mood / Let me get you in the right mood,” she whispers. Love and lust aren’t the only themes; The Internet also craft continual motifs of resolve, self-love, and healing, forgoing a streamlined narrative in favor of feel-good emotional soundscapes. Each consecutive turn unfolds a hidden layer, populating a crowd of sounds that warrant repeated listening.
For all the experiments that work—secret track “Diamond Rangz” (hidden after “Come Over”) camouflages a song transition as a minute-long skit; the Lacy-led “Beat Goes On” begins as an intricate, kick-drum-powered groove before fading into a starry electro rendition of itself—some feel forced. The industrial metal thump of “Bravo” stomps out Syd’s vocals rather than pushing them along, and Thomas’s rap at the end of “It Gets Better” is a redundant echo of an earlier verse’s healing sentiments.
These are trivial shortcomings, though. Hive Mind remains as soulful as ever, weaving disparate sounds and textures without feeling erratic; it’s moving even at its most minimal. The Internet have grown without losing their humility. “My groove right / I might snatch up ya wife / Smooth like it’s nothin to me,” Syd coos on “La Di Da.” If you’re not married, sigh with relief.