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Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Best Albums of the Summer Were Exercises in Reinvention

Summer is a time of intense polarities, of feverish abandon and earned languor. There’s heat and purpose waiting to be seized in those unexpected, life-altering summer nights: on the dancefloor, at the bar, among friends. There’s equal chill, though, in the loss and grief that surface: historically, fatalities spike during hotter months.

Yet summer, at its glowing core, is a time of auspicious breakthroughs, and the best albums released across June, July, and August rattled with justifiable discovery. Excavating personal triumphs and public traumas, kindling love and sexuality, contending with struggle both emotional and economic. Discovering, ultimately, what it means, to shape yourself.

This year has been an especially promising moment in music, a reminder that the gold rush of creativity from artists as varied as Sunflower Bean, Nipsey Hussle, Young Fathers and others won’t soon let up. It’s also a year marked by pure volatility. Artists no longer hew to industry conventions; fall no longer heralds the most attention-commanding records. Pop giants like Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Kanye West all issued albums this summer. Drake and Cardi B were the two most-streamed artists on Spotify, with nearly 1 billion spins between them. And the ascendant California artist Doja Cat released the summer’s surprise viral hit, with “Mooo!”; amassing more than 10 million views on YouTube since dropping just three weeks ago (she later came under fire after defending past homophobic language in a tweet).

And in such transformative times, these six albums are perhaps the truest anomalies marking an era of Peak Music.

The Internet, Hive Mind

[#video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/NB3gWkhLkxM

Steve Lacy is one of this generation’s most adept experimentalists—his SoundCloud-released teen-rock psalm “4Real” was one of 2017’s more gutsy propositions—and his work on The Internet’s fourth full-length, Hive Mind, is infused with the same daredevil spirit. Alongside prodigious frontwoman Syd and producer Matt Martians, Lacy helps the R&B collective innovate on the static, laid-back funk they’ve made their signature sound by simplifying their form into an even more cohesive symphony of earnest soul.

The album doesn’t squirm as much as its predecessor, the Grammy-nominated Ego Death, but that’s actually a treat: track by track, the melodies coalesce into a groovy sum. “Come Over” is a lurching, bass-heavy slow burner about a cat-and-mouse game of love, while “Next Time/Humble Pie” and “It Gets Better (With Time)” writhe with subdued righteousness (they’re perhaps the two standout tracks on an otherwise standout album). Today, a smattering of on-the-rise artists, particularly on SoundCloud, have built an aesthetic on fragmentation—piecing together dark disparate sounds, doing away with neat genre formulations—but The Internet are proof that reinvention need not be predicated on novelty or risk, but can simply be a matter of honing what you do best.

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