Release Date: Aug 20, 2013
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Los Angeles art punks No Age have always strained uneasy ambience out of the energy of hardcore and vice versa. In their earliest recordings, the duo landed somewhere between the sloppy youthful explosions of Void, My Bloody Valentine's fuzz-buried pop, and the churning ambient darkness of Gas. As they developed over increasingly well-produced albums like 2008's Nouns up until 2010's Everything in Between, No Age sought to either smooth out the edges or play up the contrasting elements of their sound, moving through phases of riff-heavy punk and unexpectedly open and sophisticated songwriting alike as they went on.
As soon as the first bright notes of An Object wave you over to the album’s distorted incandescence, you realize that something is going on. It’s the same realization people must’ve had when they first heard the baby piano on The Velvet Underground & Nico or the opening drum roll on Sandinista! It’s the realization that what you’re listening to is the culmination of everything rock and roll has produced up to that point and everything that is to come. Some of you won’t agree—that’s cool—but those of you who do will remember exactly where you were and how you felt when you heard No Age’s soon-to-be seminal contribution to the history of the genre.
A recollection, first of all: I first saw Randy Randall and Dean Spunt way back in 2005., in their hardcore-soaked garage band Wives. In a glorious ten-minute set, they leapt wildly and heroically around the tiny stage of Liverpool’s since-dormant Magnet venue, burning brightly and all-too briefly in the process. Of course, if you can’t win ‘em over with ten minutes of roaring post-adolescent spasms, then you may as well give up, and indeed they’d split within a matter of months.
One quality you can’t always get across on multi-reviewer sites like Paste is that an album might be a disappointment in the context of a band’s own catalog, but still a highlight compared to everyone else’s. No Age is a great band; the level of quality that Dean Spunt and Randy Randall are operating at is greater than most guitar-wielders in 2013 and certainly most rock outfits that loop samples. An Object is more listenable than The Rest because the default point on the sonic grid that these guys work within is an uncommonly warm, sizzling and tuneful sweet spot.
No Age have made a point of expanding their sound with each release, exploring sonic textures and recording techniques. They've double-mic'ed tracks, meaning sending the mix through a PA system and recording it again, they've recorded in studios where Crass have recorded, and Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy was recorded because "why not?", and basically just done everything they can to achieve new and different sounds. On An Object, their fourth full-length, they somehow take the experimentation even further.Opener "No Ground" twinkles a bit then comes atcha with chugging bass and guitars sustaining a single chord as long as they can.
According to Randy Randall (one half of Southern California art-punk duo No Age, along with Dean Spunt), the idea was to "construct" an album the same way one might build furniture or a building. The duo participated in every step of An Object's making: writing, recording, typesetting, manufacturing and packaging. The result, according to Randall, was "an object." Where No Age's third album, Everything in Between, built upon the waves of distorted noise characteristic of their early output by adding layers of sparkling guitars to their oeuvre, their fourth, An Object, strips it all back again.
No Age has always operated by the principle of impulse and momentum. One second they’re sweating out carefully applied dollops of noise, and the next they’re gently swaying luminous drone guitars and sun-drenched textures. They’ve staunchly kept to that formula much in the same way they strongly cling to their egalitarian political beliefs, employing the concept of brand identity with a fearless transparency that’s seldom seen from bands that are signed to major indie labels.
LA’s No Age have always been a curious proposition. Half punk band, half art project, the music they make treads a fine line between chin-stroking cleverness and headbanging rock. It made them a popular scene band, if not a particularly big one, and around the release of last album ‘Everything In Between’ in 2010 they were better known for their band T-shirts than their music.
Ever the ones to do things on their own terms, No Age have surpassed themselves with their latest effort, An Object. It’s not just an album, but an actual work of art. Not only have Dean Spunt and Randy Randall written, recorded and produced An Object, they’ve also made and assembled the packaging. There’s nothing striking about having to put in that kind of hard work if you’re in a fledgling band – it’s pretty much standard.
Uh-oh, No Age is messin' with the formula. Their sound had its expansion and now it's time to retract a little, to lean toward some of those punk roots rather than reveling in all that blissful guitar/noise wash. Okay, maybe some reveling, but this one does come out swinging, exemplified by songs like opener "No Ground," with its driving, staccato riff and singer/drummer Dean Sprunt doing a kind of Thurston Moore punk shout, or "C'mon Stimmung" and "Lock Box," both served up Ramones-style with three-chord simplicity and Sprunt channeling a little Joey here and there (with occasional bursts of Dee Dee).
An Object is protest music. Though their crusade is more principled than political, No Age employ a common countercultural tactic on their third proper LP, reappropriating a derogatory term: what are you calling an object? This is art, with an intrinsic value that cannot be quantified or commoditized and society is worse off when any record is treated differently. But the irony is that it's a clever marketing tactic whether intentional or not; No Age’s music, successful as it’s been, never tells their whole story.
On their fourth album, this L.A. duo sound bigger and more extravagantly expressive than two scuzz-punk dudes should. Art smarts lurk behind all the bashing, and the new songs rip and ruminate by turns, as rays of effects-laden guitar and brisk drums shift rapidly between soft and hard, hectic and calm. "I am the patient spider in the web," singer-drummer Dean Spunt yells in the opener, "No Ground." He and guitarist Randy Randall sit back in wait and strike from there, with solemn dirges (the cello-streaked "An Impression") set among fist-pump anthems ("Lock Box").
After a brief chiming intro, the first track on No Age’s new album opens with the kind of blistering, bare bones guitar riffing that fans of the band’s previous, tumultuously energetic albums would expect. But about a minute into “No Ground” – just as you’re readying yourself for the kind of fractured, frantic chorus the band excels at – something else happens. The song dissolves into a brief, blurry patch of guitar static, then cuts straight into the next verse.
They earn themselves a lot of qualifying prefixes – ‘ambient’, ‘experimental’, ‘dream’ – but, above anything else, No Age are undoubtedly a punk band. Punk in the abstract sense of embodying the DIY values of the scene, but also punk in the sense of punk rock – the bread and butter, music genre definition of the word. Despite briefly flirting with expanded line-ups, No Age remains a duo of drums and guitar where volume and speed usually take precedence over melody and composition.
No Age's An Object has a lot in common with its predecessor, 2010's grungy Everything in Between. Both albums boast a dense wall of sound composed of droning guitars and piercing feedback mixed with disaffected vocals. But whereas the previous album offset its harsh sonic palate with a bevy of earworm-y hooks and melodies, An Object is built on the no-wave conceit of anti-melody.
Value within a capitalist economy isn’t indicative of an object’s ability to evoke a feeling, but rather of its utility. The durability of the material through weather and wear and its ability to change are factors intrinsic to determining value. That said, how do we decide what objects are worth? That’s what noise-punk outfit No Age has, in an abstract way, attempted to answer.
DIY punk duo No Age have achieved a level of DIY so DIY it would rival a six-hour omnibus of DIY SOS filmed, edited and presented by Nick Knowles himself. Not only did Randy Randall and Dean Spunt write, record and produce their fourth album, they also took on the role of manufacturer, creating the artwork and even pressing it in order to "make" a record in its truest sense. The blood, sweat and tears that made An Object are certainly evident: C'mon, Stimmung is a run-in with a drunken ex, promising, "I'm still alright", before retching and collapsing into the bar, while the mellow protest of I Won't Be Your Generator is snarkily antagonistic ("Don't waste my time!") and Running From A-Go-Go paints No Age as tour-loathing sadsacks: "Crowded place/ It's all the same/ No escaping when it pays your way.
Probably the most immediate aspect about noise-rock duo No Age’s music is not so much their immediacy (for lack of a better word) but the ability to juxtapose that noise with ambient bliss that never seems to lack intensity. Bands like Deerhunter used to do it more prevalently (see Cryptograms) but throughout Nouns and Everything in Between, No Age has always maintained the ability to coerce loud riffs and explosions by way of dense interludes. Now the tandem returns with An Object, an album that finds them further exploring the depths of their palettes with another worthy album of expressive highs.
Punk, by its very nature, is an experiment. To use the word “experimental” to describe An Object, the latest album from No Age, would be redundant. The L.A. duo, composed of guitarist Randy Randall and vocalist/drummer Dean Allen Spunt, have had just about every label in existence thrown at them.
Punk isn’t unwavering, but at the same time it’s not sacrifice to a gentle gust of wind. When No Age emerged with a LA-hero status backing up the foundations of their wild, experimental dysfunction, they’d already flipped the formula enough to call it a day. Over the years they’ve not so much changed as reinforced their unique cause. Shifts from forceful old-school punk to abstract, heady noise all remain, but on fourth album ‘An Object’ there’s a clear self-awareness, a belief that something’s gotta give.Dean Allen Spunt and Randy Randall are only a force of two, after all.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS Before taking a three-year hiatus in 2010, No Age ended Everything in Between, the band’s strongest album to date, with an improbably effervescent track called “Chem Trails.” That song – with its call-and-response verse, enthusiastic chorus, clear-as-a-bell production (at least by the band’s standards), and guitar-solo heroism – held the promise that the LA noise-punk duo would maybe someday emerge from the fuzz to fully embrace their underlying pop tendencies. In other words, they’d stride down the trail Sonic Youth blazed in the late-80s. The pithy punk outbursts No Age are best known for hardly invite comparisons to the commanding, magisterial distortion of a typical Sonic Youth composition.
It’s hard not to feel caught up in a record as idealistic as An Object. It wants to be venomous, maybe even revolutionary, and at the very least just punk, inviting everyone along except the man, who it has a radar on. A song with as much thrust-forward voltage as “No Ground” would cause the man to put hands over his ears; “Lock Box” folds its arms and tells him he isn’t getting in.
"How times have changed", Dean Allen Spunt sings on 'Disaffected/Ed', somewhere around the mid-point of No Age's fourth full-length, An Object. In some ways he is right - a lot has changed since the band's 2007 debut Weirdo Rippers, though it seems largely the external world that has done so. To a casual listener No Age's formula, lo-fi punk tinged with experimental flourishes, has remained determinedly unmodified.
Noise, some say, is just noise. Noise in the hands of Randy Randall and Dean Spunt is a tangible, something to be shaped, molded. On the duo’s latest for Sub Pop “An Object”, they take the monotone sparseness of The Velvet Underground, the distorted volume of Husker Du, some drone from the Sonic Youth playbook and somehow find melody in ram shackled, crazed beauty.