(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Y Naught are a Burlington trio of former UVM physics and music students. Composed of lead vocalist and guitarist Wallace Kenyon, drummer Evan Laird and bassist Pat Markley, the band seems to approach its music as it might a physics experiment. On their debut album, Initial Conditions, Y Naught test the buoyant properties of lighter jazz against the surface tension of muddy prog-rock. The results, however, are inconclusive.
Initial Conditions is at times a drawn-out affair. Two tracks break the seven-minute mark, and four others clock in at more than five minutes. That length leaves Y Naught free to experiment, lending the album a live-performance vibe. But it can also test the listener's endurance.
The album opens with "All Along," a melodic tune that artfully shows the band's dueling personae — jazz and rock — with limited lyrical embellishment. Similarly, "In Here" and "At Pay" are decent tracks bolstered by quality arrangements. Here, Laird is the instrumental star. His drumming is sensitive when it needs to be and playful when the moment allows. On "Ephemera," Markley's bass pops with tension and restraint, while Kenyon's electric guitar hits pleasing notes.
Lead vocalist Kenyon is at times enthusiastic, at others languid. When he lets his voice ride along with the music, he's at his best. Unfortunately, he frequently reaches for styles that jar the ear, such as the hair-raising screams on "Why Not" or attempts at higher notes, particularly on "Odd Time."
"Maniacal Motives" is a bit of a psychedelic mess. Kenyon's vocals change direction and pitch frequently, from panicked and shrill to apathetic and growling. Musically, Laird and Markley try to follow along but ultimately are swallowed in grandiose vocal gestures.
The closing track, "The Chase," begins with an out-of-context segment of doo-wop a cappella before retreating into hard rock. The sharp contrast exemplifies Y Naught's efforts to merge genres that, in more experienced hands, might find a seamless blend. It often feels like the music is playing them, rather than the other way around.
Still, sometimes the beauty is in the attempt. Y Naught deserve some credit for their willingness to break the rules, and they have talent. The trio just needs to buff some of their rough edges and rein in the looser elements. Fluid, largely instrumental and improvisational, Initial Conditions is an interesting experiment — just not always successful.
Y Naught's debut album, Initial Conditions, is available at ynaught.bandcamp.com. Y Naught play Radio Bean on Saturday, May 30.
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