The Year’s Best Neo-Soul Record Puts Queer Crooner Syd tha Kyd Front and Center
It’s no secret that our community is woefully underrepresented in the world of modern soul. For one Frank Ocean, there are 100 straight men “baby baby-ing” over looped beats and glitches. Sapphic thrushes are as rare as unicorns. And while California’s The Internet are not a gay collective, their inclusion and foregrounding of Syd tha Kyd (née Sydney Barrett) isn’t only worth noting but worth celebrating. And Hive Mind, the band’s fourth release, is a cool breeze during a hot summer.
The album title refers to collective consciousness, which the band embraces with sublime empathy. “We don’t have that dog-eat-dog mentality between each other like some groups do,” Matt Martians, musician and producer, has said. “It’s just natural. We talk all the time. We move in a unit. It’s not too hard.”
The five members of The Internet promoted each other’s solo works to the extent that they toured together in 2017 showcasing solo material, and that camaraderie is self-evident in the deep, languorous grooves that form the bedrock of Hive Mind.
The Internet opens with the brisk “Come Together,” a call to close ranks as a family and also as a political tactic. (There’s no way the chorus — “they gon’ get us to come together” — isn’t about Trump.) They pay homage to old-school jams with “Roll (Burbank Funk).” And the good vibes proliferate throughout, whether Syd’s cajoling her lady friend to “Stay the Night” or the full band — which also includes Steve Lacy, Patrick Paige II and Christopher Smith — is insisting, with ’60s flair, that the “Beat Goes On.”
All five members are equal partners in The Internet, so it’s problematic to just focus on Syd tha Kyd, though — sonically — the ear is drawn to her sultry croon and calm demeanor. Yet never have her charms been incorporated with such dexterity and warmth. The band is speaking to each other through their music, a result, perhaps, of what drummer Smith has said is “hanging out and making fun of each other.”
Whatever they did to get here, they should all be proud of their achievement. Hive Mind is the best neo-soul record this year, and we’re doubtful a better one is waiting around the corner.