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The Internet imperceptibly melds hand-played parts with loops and samples; whether or not it actually is, the music feels analog. Even where the drums are looped, the bass lines often drag and pull against the beat, breaking away from vamps to improvise and loosen things up; vocals arrive wherever they want, teasing expectations. Songs might just end with the sound of a tape slowing down, or its simulation.
The Internet perfected its mixture of studio mischief and song structure on “Ego Death” in 2015. For most of that album, Syd — the band’s main songwriter — sang about romances with women, inflected by ambition, celebrity and digital communication; there was also a glimpse of a troubled outside world in “Penthouse Cloud,” which addressed police shootings with pain and prayer. Then, between Internet albums, band members vented their more eccentric ideas on solo recordings.
“Hive Mind” falls ever so slightly short of “Ego Death,” though it’s still superb. The songs are a little more generalized, less specific; the music feels just a little more deliberate, though it’s still full of surprises. The album opens with “Come Together,” a distant 21st-century echo of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” with thoughts about divisiveness and uncertainty over a jumpy bass line, wondering “What we gon’ do”; then voices gather out of nowhere to insist, “They gon’ get us to come together.” In “Roll (Burbank Funk),” which follows it, Mr. Lacy urges, “Listen to your heart/What’s it sayin’?,” but what matters just as much is the suavely strutting groove.
Then come the amorous chronicles. In “Stay the Night,” “Come Over,” and “Hold On,” Syd gently negotiates her trysts: “Not saying I’m a pro/But you could learn from me,” she coos in “Hold On.” In “Mood,” Syd reveals the tactical thinking during a date: “Right where I want you/I check my posture.” And in “Wanna Be,” she ponders how to move from friendship to romance, as creamy vocal harmonies — part Chi-Lites, part Beach Boys — hint at blissful possibilities.
But Syd is no pushover. In “Look What U Started,” a skulking bass line carries withering accusations: “You blame it on your problems but it’s no excuse/You can’t keep playing innocent — I know the truth.” Meanwhile, in “La Di Da,” she casually brushes off a guy: “Face it, I’m out of your league,” she sings, adding, “Sorry that I’m so blasé.” Saving face, he insists, “I just came to dance, catch a groove,” and the song provides a snappy one, peppered with wah-wah guitar and Latin percussion.