The Internet

Hive Mind

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Ego Death raised the Internet's standing outside and inside the music industry. It hit the Top Ten of the R&B/hip-hop chart and was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Urban Contemporary Album. Amid a slew of solo projects varying in size and scope, keyboardist Jameel Bruner left the band, but the five remaining members eventually reunified, as was the plan, to make the fourth Internet album on the east and west coasts and in England and Australia. Evidently remaining under no pressure to assimilate with commercial R&B or even commit to traditional song structures, the musicians whip up another mixture of loose dance grooves and languid ballads. The effect is only a shade less stimulating than that of their previous LP. With all five members factoring into the creation and production of the material, the band could refine these familiar modes several times over without repeating themselves. They not only leave space for one another's ideas and playing, but also involve collaborators -- Nick Green again on some co-writing, Moonchild on serene horns -- without overstuffing the songs, operating as one organism. Explicit and subtle themes of shelter, comfort, and shrugging off the weight of the world are threaded throughout. All three are hinted in the opener with "What we gon' do?" and "They gon' get us to come together," with the second line repeated, gradually intensifying in force and volume to the point where it becomes a statement of resistance. Foremost is a carefree roller-skating jam named "Roll (Burbank Funk)," where Patrick Paige wraps a vigorous funk bassline around the oft-sampled break from Gaz's Salsoul nugget "Sing Sing." Syd Bennett remains the prevailing voice, whispery and easy on the ear yet always heartfelt and often seductive. She continues to grow as a vocalist, sounding sweeter -- more Janet-like than ever -- on the quietly moving "It Gets Better (With Time)," while in the background of "Look What U Started" evoking the lower-end vocal of Brandy's "Baby." Hooks are not as common, sometimes concealed, rewarding listeners who don't mind delayed gratification. Just as "Mood" starts to wear out its welcome with common ingredients -- an off-the-cuff rhythm tied into a knot, plus bristly spaced-out guitar from Steve Lacy -- Bennett casually pulls out one of her most persuasive hooks like it's nothing.

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