The follow-up to 2016's well-regarded debut album Zebra, N/um's YES EP further establishes the New York-based trio (pronounced 'noom') as ones to watch. Recorded live at House of Yes in Brooklyn, it features four seamlessly connected improvisational tracks apparently recorded without any plan or previously agreed-upon structure.
Although less freewheeling than you might expect given this description, YES nonetheless explores the largely uncharted potential of improv dance music with confidence. Things start out strongly with "Induction," a classy house track unfolding around austere piano chords and crystalline guitar that sounds at times like a more restrained B-side from St Germain's Tourist.
The addition of more overtly jazz-improv elements to N/um's palette wouldn't go unappreciated, either. Certainly there are moments of obviously 'live' playing — there's backwards-sounding guitar on "Elastica" and "Morgenrot" has an unmistakably human touch behind it for instance, and there are plenty of flourishes of manual knob-twiddling throughout — but they don't define the album, and there are stretches where some more adventurousness would have been welcomed. N/um wield their restraint tastefully however, making sure things never get too repetitive as they slowly add and subtract elements.
Final track "Yes and No" is perhaps the most interesting cut here, an open-ended foray that starts in glitched-out techno territory before tightening up to finish in a more groove-oriented, minimalist neighbourhood — somewhere on Richie Hawtin Avenue. It's the most dynamic and 'live' sounding offering on the EP, and as such the most lively and fun too, leaving one wondering where this talented trio would have gone next after their somewhat abrupt conclusion.
N/um continue to explore the intersection of programmatic and improvisational dance music to interesting and rewarding effect on YES. It sometimes feels a bit studied and restrained, belying the live heritage praised in its press material, but this feels like important work nonetheless. (Ninetofire)