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The Internet Bring Bleeding-Edge R&B To Jazz Fest

In Music
Old Souls: The Internet display a level of maturity and artistic vision beyond their years.

Old Souls: The Internet display a level of maturity and artistic vision beyond their years.

Odd Future offshoot The Internet sprang onto the scene in 2011, around the same time that another OFWGKTA associate, Frank Ocean, and a Drake-approved mystery-man (known back then only by his moniker, The Weeknd) began releasing throbbing, druggy, downtempo jams for free online. The music blogosphere quickly pounced. Music writers observed that The Internet—who will headline the Jazz Beyond Stage this Friday, during the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest—along with their peers, were making music that sounded familiar, yet somehow alien.

All of these artists were making R&B music—on that score, the critics all agreed. But there was something different about this R&B. Beyond their predilection for syrup-slow beats and reverberant, warped samples, all of these performers seemed completely comfortable with expressing their discomfort. Unlike their “pop” peers—Usher, R. Kelly, Chris Brown and Ty Dolla Sign, all of whom project confidence and hyper-masculinity—this new collection of crooners was doing just the opposite.

Instead of declaring dominance, they were broadcasting a distress call. Despite generating significant critical acclaim by early 2011, The Weeknd frontman, Abel Tesfaye, dodged the spotlight, refusing to grant interviews until mid-2013. Frank Ocean sampled Radiohead, sang about falling for a girl at Coachella and came out as bisexual in advance of his major label debut. And Miguel was heralded as an egalitarian lover in a sea of misogynists—interested not just in satisfying his own carnal desires but in fulfilling those of his partner.

Music writers scrambled to classify these neo-soul navel-gazers, and before long, a number of tags emerged: alt-R&B, R-Neg-B and PBR&B—a reference to the prefered beer of hipsters everywhere.

Predictably, many artists grouped under the alt-R&B umbrella don’t like the moniker. Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians—the production duo at the helm of The Internet—certainly aren’t feeling it.

“I think it’s kind of off-putting,” Matthew Martin, aka Matt Martians, says, reflecting on all of the various modifiers that have been tacked on to what he sees as the genre in which The Internet belongs. “I think it’s just R&B.”

Then again, Martin and Bennett aren’t arguing that they are out to invert the tropes of braggadocio and materialism that have wormed their way into the R&B genre. After all, the title of their latest album, released June 29, is Ego Death.

“It’s about vulnerability and being honest with yourself and what’s happening—who you really are and what you really have,” Bennett says, explaining what the record’s title means to her. “We wanted to make the most honest album that we could.”

Ego Death is certainly an honest, and earnest, record. Listening to the album’s 12 tracks, it’s clear that Bennett—The Internet’s lead vocalist and lyricist—is struggling to tell the truth with every song.

In her quest for veracity, she deploys an unreliable narrator on “Under Control,” a song about struggling to keep things together. “I woke up impatient and anxious,” Bennett sings on Ego Death’s third track. The words tumble out of her mouth before the song’s one-bar intro even finishes, and the listener must question whether she really is in command of her emotions.

Bennett also finds a kind of truth on “Just Sayin/I Tried”—albeit a truth rooted in the understanding that some things are just unknowable. The nearly 7-minute diptych begins with the singer relishing in telling a former lover that she has “fucked up,” before switching gears to a serenaded shrug. “I tried,” she sings. “I tried.”

The album’s production, just as much as Bennett’s lyricism and delivery, are crucial in making Ego Death a standout. Bennett, Martin, their recently expanded band, and a few other collaborators, have crafted a trippy, progressive and spaced-out sonic tapestry—borrowing equally from psychedelia, soul, jazz, hip-hop and trip-hop. The addition of a permanent guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist and backup singer mean the album was written to be played live. That, and a “harder element” in the form of infectious, punchy drum beats, have Bennett excited to get on stage. And Martin feels the same

“This is the most happy we’ve been with an album so far, for sure,” Martin says. “This one is our most complete, I feel. We’ve really, really found our sound.”

The Internet play San Jose Jazz Summer Fest’s Jazz Beyond Stage on Aug. 7 at 9pm. More info on SJ Jazz Summer Fest.

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