Lose Yourself in ‘Ego Death,’ The Internet’s Transcendent New Album by Justin Chadwick [REVIEW + FULL STREAM]

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“Ego death [is the] loss of the separate self or, in the affirmative, a deep and profound merging with the transcendent other.” –  John Harrison, Psy.D (cand), Ego Death & Psychedelics

Ever listen to an album for the first time and wonder how you—or more broadly, the world—ever functioned without it? Well, listening to The Internet’s transcendent third studio album Ego Death provokes precisely this sense of awestruck fascination. Integral members of the acclaimed Los Angeles-based Odd Future hip-hop collective along with Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean, among others, Sydney “Syd tha Kid” Bennett and Matt Martians formed The Internet as a soulful offshoot project in 2011. Their first two LPs, 2011’s Purple Naked Ladies and 2013’s Feel Good, are both excellent. But Ego Death, released this week, is unequivocally their career breakthrough.

Uncompromisingly imaginative and bold—both sonically and conceptually—Ego Death is propelled by Syd tha Kyd’s softly sensuous vocals and unapologetically sincere lyrics that glide atop lushly atmospheric grooves. As she recently explained to Ebony, the album’s title derives from the notion of “becoming vulnerable and becoming sure of yourself within that vulnerability and learning about our egos. Realizing that we have them, trying not to deny them, but at the same time being conscious and trying to use them the best we can.” The pervasive spirit of the album is one of hope and reassurance, though an air of melancholy can also be detected throughout, as Syd the Kid explores the central and interconnected themes of love, lust, loss, and liberation.

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In light of last week’s Supreme Court-adjudicated triumph for same-sex marriage nationwide—and more tellingly, much of the country’s widespread support for the long overdue mandate—it should no longer strike listeners as particularly novel that the objects of Syd tha Kyd’s ruminative lyrics are other women. Nonetheless, right from the first moments of album-opener “Get Away,” a gorgeous ode to romantic escapism, it’s strikingly refreshing to hear her feelings conveyed in such a naturally confident, devil-may-care fashion.

Other standout moments include Syd tha Kyd dueting with Janelle Monae on the soaring space-age serenade “Gabby,” comforting a skeptical lover on the breezy “Under Control,” and flexing her persuasive Patrón-aided powers of seduction on “Special Affair.” Elsewhere, stellar rhyme support is provided by Tyler, the Creator and Vic Mensa on the bumping party anthem “Palace/Curse” and anti-inhibition hymn “Go With It,” respectively. Arguably the most poignant song is the somber “Penthouse Cloud,” which finds Syd tha Kyd lamenting the “war outside” and envisioning a “paradise in the sky when we die” as the ultimate escape from the world’s ills. Even a cursory interpretation of the opening lines (“Did you see the news last night? / They shot another one down”) suggests that paramount among these ills is the ceaseless pattern of unarmed black men’s deaths at the hands of reckless police.

Regrettably, my soulhead compatriots and I were just a few days late in discovering this brilliant album in time to include it in this week’s tribute to the “Finest Albums of 2015 So Far,” though it unquestionably warrants inclusion. Rest assured, when our final Best of the Year list surfaces in December, Ego Death will be represented and most likely near the top of the list. Essential listening, indeed.

RATING: A

Notable Tracks: “Gabby” | “Get Away” | “Palace/Curse” | “Penthouse Cloud” | “Special Affair” | “Under Control”

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