Words by WatchLOUD Staff
June 26th marks one year since The Internet released their stellar third studio album Ego Death. The project was a thematic departure for fans who knew them for singing about doing cocaine on their debut, but didn’t sacrifice their edge. However, the alluring and warm soundscapes allowed R&B traditionalists with more conservative ears to finally partake.
“It’s confidence. You got to exude a certain amount of confidence,” Matt Martians told WatchLOUD of Ego Death last year. “We definitely didn’t have that before, in the lyrics. I feel that instrumentation-wise, last album, we had the confidence. But, I feel like lyrically we were very ambiguous. That’s what I say about the last album, we were very floaty. I feel like that was our experimental album. Purple Naked Ladies was us just making a bunch of songs together and them just being really cool.”
So to commemorate the first birthday of Ego Death the WatchLOUD staff held an office “draft” to write about each of the 12 songs from the album (not including the two bonus cuts “Famous” and “Missing You”) and how they feel about the project after living with it for 365 days.
1.”Get Away” (Jerry L. Barrow)
Ego Death always played out like a movie in my head as it pierced the late night silence of many drives down the Van Wyck Expressway. My organic VR rig concocted a sequel to Dope where Kiersey Clemons’ “Diggy” stepped into the lead protagonist’s roll.
In classic “in medias res” form this story starts in the middle: Our protagonist is a financially challenged yet aspirational savante with a big score on the near horizon, but they’re still dealing with the headaches of being a hero on the verge: annoying old girlfriend, annoying new girlfriend, one old car to shuttle between them both. And there is only one thing that can fix it: a hit of some good sticky icky. But “Get Away” is more than just an ode to THC fueled escapism. It gives us a peek into the problem solving skills of our hero and the hubris that may be their eventual undoing. “Now she wanna fuck with me/Live a life of luxury, model in my money trees” is a collar-pop of an intro to not just this song, but to the entire album that sets an unmistakable tone. It contains all of the crotch-grabbing bravado of an MC but delivered with more of an eye-roll than a scowl over a smokey groove.
2.”Gabby” (Dylan Green)
This might be the funkiest melancholy I’ve ever experienced in my life. The slanky bassline spells trouble almost as bluntly as Syd’s verses: “Lately when I look into your eyes/I see indefinite trouble.” The swirling feelings of romance steeped in uncertainty are captured in Janelle Monae’s inaudible coos that close the track out. Since last year, I’ve grappled with whether or not I feel this should’ve opened the album, but transitioning from the abrupt opening of “Getaway” to the notes of blue on “Gabby” seems like the best move now.
Songs like this tend to be seasonal for me, but it’s crazy adaptable.
3.”Under Control” (Jerry)
If our hero had a definitive theme song this would be it. Sonically this is as un-apologetically happy as they allow themselves to be with a b-boy friendly drum cadence and guitar plucks composed of serotonin.
I can see the opening credits roll as our cape-less paper crusader hops out of bed to set their plans of world domination in motion. “I woke up impatient and anxious, chasin dreams in my sleep…” she sings almost apologizing to her girl for elbowing her in her sleep.
As much as this is a pre-proposal to a faceless love interest, it’s almost as if the group is also singing to the radio programmers who balked at this song until rabid fans blew up the emails and request lines asking for it. “I know you love it babe, ‘cause I’m a risk/ But if you put it on, Imma win (Imma).” And that they did. And for the record, we definitely don’t hate you because you’re a playa. We don’t hate you at all.
4.”Go With It” (Jerry)
Here we’re at our hero’s favorite part of the relationship, the beginning. After locking eyes across a virtual dance floor the courtship commences. Still on a first name basis, she probably doesn’t even know her twitter @ yet, but starts thinking about where to go for a T- bone steak, cheese eggs and Welch’s grape after the party. I always felt like Vic Mensa’s manic opening verse was totally unnecessary until you realize he represents all of the annoying dudes that spit game before Syd comes along, and that his awkward fit actually…fits.
5.”Just Sayin/I Tried” (Jourdan Ash)
I have a problem— a little one but a problem nonetheless. I attach memories — both good and bad — to music. Hence, why I’ve been avoiding The Internet’s Ego Death this year. Ego Death is my break-up album.
I was fresh out of a relationship when “Just Sayin’/ I Tried” became my theme song. I played it on repeat dancing in the mirror and mouthing “You fucked up,” every morning.
“You fucked up/ You made another mistake/ Now you know that I’m not the type that you can replace.” I resonated with Syd’s anger and resentment towards her former lover. I used it as an empowering way to get over a situation of my own… until the three minute mark. “I Tried.” No, literally I tried to get past the second half of the song, but couldn’t do it. The song transitioned from “Fuck you, I don’t need you,” to drowning in a sea of “I did my best.” And that is what I couldn’t handle. Any time I made it to the three-minute mark, my eyes would water and my mind would begin to travel. Though it’s my favorite song on the album, I cannot listen to “Just Sayin/ I Tried” without skipping “I Tried.”
6. For The World (Jourdan)
“For the World” highlighted Syd’s need for being a protector in a time where we barely knew how to protect ourselves. The Black Lives Matter movement was at its height when Ego Death dropped.
“False arrest, unrest, was on the docket/It’s cool, at least that’s what CNN says/Girl you’re special, I wanna protect you and I’ll kill so you could live”
I can remember being in the midst of protests/rallies on 14th and thinking “Who’s going to protect me from the hired protection?” “For the World” spoke to me in that time. Though I no longer had a protector at that time, this song made me believe that one was out there. That someone somewhere was looking out for me.
One thing I was reminded of listening to Syd this past year is that a lot of relationship behaviors are not unique to a gender. Whether she was gushing or glib she took me through all the levels of that enigmatic yet oft used “it’s complicated” status on Facebook. Wanting a woman without wanting to be WITH a woman is a proposition wrought with peril if not negotiated correctly. And being a woman herself has not made Syd immune to the consequences.
While she defies convention at every turn throughout this album, on “Girl” she retreats to the security and implied benefits that come with bestowing a title, reassuring the object of her affection that she can tell anyone who asks that she is spoken for. “I can give you the life you deserve, just say the word.” It’s a sentiment right out of the 1950’s “going steady” playbook, dressed in Kaytranada’s whispering synths and six-string caresses. “Old fashioned and natural” she sings.
But we know better. In the last 1:30 the blood is drained from their cherry moon and the couple moves into the next inevitable phase of a lopsided courtship. The title becomes a hollow participation trophy as Syd pulls back the curtains to let the blinding light in: “we don’t fight/we just fuck/I’m in like, she’s in love, she gave in, I gave up/ can we just live in the moment…”
Fun Fact: The main inspiration behind “Girl” was a song by Tee Flii called “Change Your World.” “I honestly bit the whole cadence for the chorus, I gave them writing credit,” Syd told us in our interview last year.
8. Special Affair (Jourdan)
“Special Affair” was my “shoot your shot” theme song in 2015. From the seductive bass to the Patron filled lyrics, everything about the song was perfect.
“I bet this Patron make you feel nice and comfortable/Tryna act nice girl, your cover’s blown/But you already knew that.”
Anytime “Special Affair” played there was no way you couldn’t dance to it. I remember seeing The Internet perform live when the album dropped. The entire audience— filled with mostly natural haired goddesses— immediately swayed back and forth to the hypnotic beat. It was as if we were all in a trance. Some of us closed our eyes and pretended as if Syd was singing directly to us. By some of us, I mean me. “Special Affair” reeked of flirtation. It was a lyrical aphrodisiac of sorts.
9. “Somthing’s Missing” (Dylan)
If “Gabby” was the relationship turning hazy, “Something’s Missing” is the cutoff point before the road trip of a lifetime. The first verse always brings hot desert air and top down convertibles straight outta Thelma and Louise to mind whenever I hear it: “It’s a full tank in the getaway, getaway/But before I break your heart, you should get the engine started/There’s nothin’ like a nice drive in the summertime/Sunshine with groove goin’ to help you move on/So get a move on; get your mood right, maybe start a new life.” Syd is sending clear signs for her girl to go, but clearly doesn’t want this relationship to end (“I don’t wanna be without you, babe”). While her girl’s “perfect on paper” it’s not enough to hold Syd’s interest right now. Just like Thelma and Louis, you can start to see that car heading for a cliff…
As good as it may feel to disconnect at first, the track’s instrumental interlude floods my senses with the melancholy post-breakup blues; “She only wanna get down/When no one’s around.” Who hurt you, Syd?
10. Partners In Crime Part Three (Dylan)
Whatever was missing before, Syd seems to have found it by the time “Partners In Crime pt. 3” comes on; she’s gone from “being way too young to fall in love” to admitting mistakes and welcoming the rain with “kilos in the backseat, million in the briefcase” and her girl. You know that moment when love seems like such a foreign concept as the storm clouds gather around to take turns to punch you in the gut? The dancehall flavored analog production is the exact moment where the good begins to outweigh the bad.
Freedom is elusive, but sometimes the mutual chase is thrilling in and of itself, especially with killer tunes in the whip.
11. Penthouse Cloud (Dylan)
Sike nah, the storm clouds are back for more. Syd has cited the influence that Black Lives Matter has had on “Penthouse Cloud,” which reads as a letter clashing against its own feelings of love, hate, and hope. The production on this song is more restrained and dreamy than anywhere else on the record, making Syd’s lyrics extra hefty: “Rather watch the world burn down from a penthouse cloud, real talk/But if this is what you want I’ll fight ’til the Smoke-filled skies make the days turn night, then what?”
As Black and/or LGBTQ youth, love and understanding are constantly attacked from all angles; just existing to dance again isn’t a guarantee. The track’s interlude at the end (one of my favorites on the entire record) is a thumping guitar-laced reminder that even in the face of opposition, the dance will never die.
12. Palace /Curse (Jourdan)
Something about The Internet and two-part songs do something to me. When I first heard “Palace,” it immediately took me to this “cool kid loft party” in my mind. Think Pharrell’s “Frontin’” video. Whenever I heard it, I’d envision my friends and I hitting the meanest two step and being the essence of “carefree.” But then came “Curse.”
“Baby I’m under your curse/ (You know I’d try, but there’s something about you)/ Baby I’m under your curse/ (Maybe, maybe it’s all meant to be)”
Once again at the three-minute mark, Syd had me in my feelings. Imagine having the time of your life at a party then getting a text that puts you directly into sadboy mode. That’s what “Curse” does to me. “Curse” will have you reconsider everything that “Just Saying’” had you believe. “Curse” is the “I don’t know why we keep doing this” song of my life.
Whenever I listen to Ego Death, I like to think that Syd & I were going through the same thing. We used music in different ways to cope with a break-up. Ego Death, the break up album.