In the three years that have passed since the The Internet released the Grammy-nominated Ego Death, the group has been far from silent. Over the past year and a half alone, each member of the hip-hop soul group has released a diverse array of solo projects, ranging from frontwoman Syd’s critically acclaimed neo-soul album Fin to Christopher Smith’s quietly released experimental trip-hop album Loud. Almost all of these projects featured The Internet’s other members in various capacities, leading to speculation on what direction the group would take next.
On Hive Mind, the members reconvene at home base with an album that does more to refine The Internet’s sound than it does to expand it and break new ground. It follows the trajectory of the band’s earlier discography to arrive at a finished product that is more poised than its predecessors without skimping on the grooves. Hive Mind is a slickly produced marvel full of striking moments that decorate it rather than define it. Its surging mellowness allows each band member’s newly honed technical prowess to flourish.
Hive Mind is more driven by an analog sound than its predecessors were. Its electronic elements tend to burnish the edges of the tracks rather than submerge them. No longer suffocated by clunky synths, Syd’s vocals saunter and glide through the space left behind, often taking on a gentleness that would have previously have been blotted out entirely. Steve Lacy and Patrick Paige II’s bass work, too, shines through with a newfound vibrance.
“Roll (Burbank Funk),” the album’s disco-influenced lead single, showcases each of these elements. Here, Syd’s vocals take Lacy’s lead, cushioning Lacy’s voice and Paige’s hypnotically twisting bass from the background, as the warped warmth of Lacy’s guitar cushions them from the front.
The album explodes with creative energy, and multiple disparate ideas are sometimes packed into one track. While these transitions within the same track can seem somewhat abrupt, within the context of the album, they serve as a refreshing reminder of The Internet’s more playful side.
This comes across especially well on “Beat Goes On.” The song trades in Syd’s vocals in favor of those of Lacy and Matt Martians. Its front end is a buzzing guitar-heavy extravaganza that soon fades into a percussive dream. While the two halves of the track could stand alone as two separate songs, Lacy and Paige’s tight, earthy basslines hold the song together as one coherent entity.
The album’s standout track is the bustling “Look What U Started.” The song opens with a fuzzy bassline tethered to a four-on-the-floor beat that slowly untangles itself into clarity just in time for Syd’s airy vocals. By the chorus, Syd has taken command of the song, switching her tone from delicate to brusque as she asks upfront: “Was it worth it? Before you go and ask for help, do you deserve it?” Lacy’s guitar floats around Syd’s vocals, accentuating without ever washing them over until it beautifully does so in the song’s outro.
On Hive Mind, The Internet proves that it steadily established the foundations of its sound over the past seven years. With this foundation in place, its members are free to mine new sonic and aesthetic territory. They can do so with the confidence that when they return to the group with newfound wisdom, they will always have an established space where they can continue to build and renovate as a collective. The album is a testament to the group’s ability to find new balances to highlight and nurture the members’ growth as individual artists within the dynamic framework of a band.