Birthday Ass’s debut album, Baby Syndrome, is an avant-garde art rock labyrinth that makes the listener constantly question what’s being heard.

I first saw Birthday Ass live with a friend who, after the first couple songs, remarked that the performance sounded “like it’s being directed by child—a really smart, really talented child.”

So naturally, I picked up one of their cassettes.

Indeed, the New England Conservatory-based group’s debut album, Baby Syndrome (perhaps an allusion to that childlike orchestration), is a cacophonous sonic mixing pot, incorporating song brevity and tempo shifts reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy with free-jazz influences similar to John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space.

Throughout much of the album, saxophonist Raef Sengupta and trumpeter Alex Quinn frequently switch between grating conflict and beautiful, captivating harmony, creating a frantic and almost schizophrenic feeling—in short, Baby Syndrome’s signature sound. Coupled with the often vague, mystical lyrics (“‘Round I go spinning into a giant hole, I’m so confused,” lead singer Priya Carlberg chants in the third song, “My Crisis”), Baby Syndrome follows some of the most important principles of music creation: captivating the listener, taking them on a journey, and making them do as just much thinking as the creator.

It’s difficult to label Baby Syndrome as a concept album per se; the only real consistent theme throughout the whole thing is, arguably, the chaotic instrumentation. Every song seems to take a radically different sonic direction, creating cacophony not only within each track but across the album as a whole.

“Fruit Toot,” for example, is the album’s high-energy opener that features a sudden saxophone solo halfway through that overpowers the other instruments and steers the song far away from its original path. Or, on the minimalist fifth track “Bobsquid,” Carlberg is paired, for most of the song, with some mellow guitar riffing, creating a beautiful track with hints of Nico’s Chelsea Girl.

Birthday Ass can’t seem to make up their mind on the style of the album—but they use that to their advantage.

While Carlberg’s monotone and often emotionless vocal performance leaves something to be desired—and while some of the lyrics are clearly lacking in depth (“You are so annoying / Get away / From my face,” Carlberg chants on the fourth track, “I Like Simple People”)—Baby Syndrome is a testament to Birthday Ass’s musical prowess and talent, and has cemented them as one of the foremost up-and-coming art rock powerhouses in Boston’s music scene.

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