The Internet show versatility but little else
Purple Naked Ladies is the work of the Internet, a duo composed of Syd tha Kid and Matt Martians. It’s the latest release from affiliates of controversial collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (or, simply, Odd Future) and the first full-length from Syd, the group’s female member. While there are a few rapped verses on the album, it tends more towards the Frank Ocean camp in that it is largely sung. Purple Naked Ladies shows range, but The Internet expend a lot of energy jumping around and not as much energy on crafting appealing songs. They lack a stand-out track like “Swim Good” from the Frank Ocean debut. The Internet’s ability to work with a wide array of sounds in different ways is admirable, but few of their unexpected turns stick with you.
Purple Naked Ladies tries a variety of musical styles. “Lincoln” has a ‘70s-sounding electric keyboard and a falsetto intro. “Cocaine” starts with a synth line that could appear on a New Order album, while “She Knows” uses synths that dart and swirl. “Fastlane” throws light soul over sharp hip-hop drumming; percussion taps out almost a Latin rhythm on “She Dgaf”. Some songs give Syd’s voice plenty of space, and some are much more cluttered. Overall, they appear unsure of what effect they’re going for.
In addition to cross-song variation, there are plenty of within-song changes. “C*nt” keeps changing its mind about where it wants to go – there’s a blurting intro, a shuffle of guitar and drums, a tempo change, difficult to discern lyrics, a funky outro. “Web of Me” starts with a spooky, dissonant keyboard riff that could be the backbone of a hard hitting beat. But the keys drop away and Syd sings instead over lurching bass and drums. When the riff comes back, she’s not spooky or dissonant – she’s cooing matter-of-factly, “You’re just caught up in the web of me”. “Web of Me” ends suddenly, and there is no time between tracks; the next song, “She Knows”, starts immediately. Syd is unpredictable, and she doesn’t give much time for you to absorb her sudden shifts in gear.
Good hooks could give The Internet’s songs a center of gravity to rotate and shift around, but there is a shortage in that department. “Cocaine” pumps forward, but the chorus – “Do you wanna do some cocaine?” – comes out awkwardly high, with weird emphasis on the first syllable of cocaine, sucking the song’s momentum. “She Dgaf” delivers a statement of rebellion: “She don’t give a fuck.” But Syd sings it flat and low, kind of disinterested. This may communicate the extent to which she doesn’t give a fuck, but it also limits the listener’s ability to care.
As they show in concise (about a minute-and-a-half-each), lush ballads, when the Internet try to define a specific feeling rather than jumping around, they can be effective. “Love Song” has big bass and spare keyboards; Syd sings, “What happened to make you / Make you start to hate me?”, and she asks this question so gently that it’s awfully hard to remain unsympathetic. Later in the song, she speeds up and sings higher, “We both know no one’s perfect”, poignantly pained. In “Visions”, a guitar line bounces back and forth; someone sings, “Tell me I’m alright”, and the funky, oscillating guitar mimics the confusion. At the end, we hear one more “Tell me”, and the song stops on a dime—open, questioning, affecting. Versatility is important, but it’s also good for a group to recognize its strengths and weaknesses. When the Internet do short and romantic, their songs are tight and purposeful. Other stylistic excursions don’t work out as well.
// Notes from the Road
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