Release Date: Jan 26, 2018
Record label: Drag City
After making an album, An Object, that felt like the perfect culmination of their freaked-out noise, gummy pop inclinations, and ambient fuzz experiments, No Age came to a fork in the road. No longer making records for Sub Pop, they took a few years to play live shows and only released one single. It might stand to reason that the duo would come back with a new sound, or at the very least some kind of update, but 2018's Snares Like a Haircut on new label Drag City is proof that the band doesn't need to do anything different to make a brilliant album.
In certain musical circles, the word “accessible” is a death-sentence, a Judas-esque betrayal. Or worse, a synonym for “sell-out.” For noise-punk veterans No Age, it means their best release in recent memory. With recurring choruses and a selection of guitar riffs you can actually hum, much of Snares Like A Haircut feels like a new era for Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, who got their start doing time at L.A.’s The Smell, a grotty, sweat-marinated touchstone of DIY legitimacy. “Cruise Control” signals this change, as the duo turn their churning, rumbling noise into an almost hooky(!) melody, and introducing the positive feeling of release that characterizes the album.
Dean Spunt and Randy Randall have spent 13 years unraveling the dualities that speak most to misfits: the beautiful and the ugly, the harsh and the bright, pop and noise. “Fever dreaming! Fever dreaming!” they shouted on their 2010 LP, cutting to the heart of everything amid a radiant mix of ear-drilling dream-punk and tugging vulnerability. No Age—named after a 1987 comp of SST instrumental music, perennial global ambassadors to Los Angeles DIY art space The Smell, immortalized with a beguiling rainbow-ombre logo—still present this, a tattered and abrasive vision of the ecstatic. Snares Like a Haircut is No Age’s latest glimmering and grating progression.
It’s been five years since 2013’s ‘An Object’ - the longest No Age have ever left between albums. In the intervening time, Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt have - bar a couple of self-released oddities - been largely quiet, focusing on “working on that thing called life” until the urge to smother themselves in noise hit again. Last time round, the LA duo kept things pretty spare, stripping away the usual swathes of reverb to leave something more skeletal and brittle.
Of the late 00s, early 10s bands that amorphized indie rock and punk into a guitar-y pulp – of which you could arguably include The Men and Lower Dens, for instance – No Age were generally agreed as the most artful. Rapaciousness and melody were fond acquaintances under the songwriting hue of Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt, often to bruisingly striking result. But in 2013, after four (consistently strong and even inappreciably adventurous) records in seven years, their contract at Sub Pop wasn’t renewed.
No Age have in the past come with a few high-minded strings attached, whether they be of the duo’s own tying or stitched onto them by others. “Cruise Control”, the opening track on Snares Like a Haircut, their fourth studio album and first since 2013, suggests they’re trying out new concept, allowing for the closest to uncomplicated enjoyment they have come in some time. “Drippy”, a dream-punk stormer at a characteristic two-and-a-half minutes in length, might be the closest thing to an explanation for their most recent extended break that No Age offer here, with drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt singing about “two cups” that “can’t be filled until they take a needed rest.” .
Snares Like A Haircut is a good rock album that continues No Age’s streak of making good rock albums. In preparing for this review, I dusted off Everything in Between and was surprised at how well it’s aged, transforming in just eight years from an immediate, zeitgeist-surfing force to something that, to go along with the idea of “aging,” warrants being “sipped.” The seams show on Snares Like A Haircut, maybe more so than on their earlier records, but I’m not convinced that this is a bad thing. While I always enjoy some good noise, I also like to question its necessity, whether it’s integral to a song, whether it’s inseparable from the rest of the song.
No Age make music you don't so much consume as become acclimated to. For over a decade, the L.A. art punks have crafted hazy, wondrous albums that feel like planets stuck in separate solar systems — each one made up of the same elements — Randy Randall's monstrous riffs and expansive effects and Dean Spunt's sinewy and sporadically intense drum fills and vocals — but governed by the unseen forces that surround them. (In real life, the community-centric scene that birthed them and aligned, anti-corporate mindset that keeps their music from being totally co-opted by the mainstream.).
How many bass players does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the guitarist has to show him how to do it first. Take a moment to bandage your split sides and consider that the above has never been an issue for LA’s No Age who’ve made five albums and probably changed countless light bulbs without ever recruiting a bassist. Lack of low-end can make their guitar-plus-drums shtick seem tinny at times, especially at some outdoor festival whose PA capability is lacking.
Snares Like A Haircut by No Age Randy Randall and Dean Spunt of No Age have always been cerebral. More so than many rock acts of their generation, it feels right to call their work a "project." On 2013's An Object, the project eclipsed the band. It was a series of experiments in process: changing up songwriting habits, using unusual configurations of instruments and recording tech, handling the production and construction of packaging and shipping themselves.
Ah, a new No Age album. Time to take a big sip of coffee while I check the LA Weekly for the latest happenings at the Smell. Jokes aside, it’s nigh impossible to assess No Age’s emergence as indie A-listers in the late 2000s without leaning on you-had-to-be-there for context: their emeritus role in LA’s buzziest DIY spaces; their comprehensive, multimedia approach to record-making; and, perhaps most importantly, a period amenable to workmanlike indie rock bands whose politics were largely couched in principle—“with passion it’s true,” they sung on 2008’s Nouns. For that reason, No Age were the goddamn truth.