No Age : Snares Like A Haircut

Randy Randall and Dean Spunt have always come across as a couple art house punks with a hell of a lot of conviction. This Los Angeles noise/art/punk/rock duo known as No Age have never sounded like they’re particularly adept at their instruments, at least at the beginning. They came across as a couple sweaty punks pushing some higher, deeply buried agenda underneath the grime and grit of a lo-fi noise band that was equally influenced by Sonic Youth’s EVOL and pop art heroes like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. With each successive release their sound got tighter and less far flung. Weirdo Rippers(2007) begat Nouns(2008) which begat Everything In Between(2010). With Everything In Between No Age seemed to have hit the height of their powers, mixing their lo-fidelity vibe with pop hooks for miles nearly perfectly. It seemed that with 2013s An Object No Age felt the need to mix the art world with the music world and the results were mixed. Randall and Spunt, besides playing art rock in No Age, worked with artists and filmmakers in various art installations and live-scoring films. They physically created, printed, packaged, and manufactured 10,000 units of the record themselves, making the whole album a DIY passion project. While the record came and went, it’s not without its moments of greatness.

No Age have returned to record making after nearly 4 1/2 years. They left Sub Pop Records for Chicago’s Drag City and bestow upon our ears Snares Like A Haircut. The album is a return to form. It’s a shot of disgruntled pop that carries a certain New York art scene feel while still permeating with plenty of pop hooks and free-wheeling punk abandon. It tows the line between statement and pure feel.

This record feels epic at it’s nearly 40-minute run time, as opposed to No Age’s usual 28 or 29 minutes, we’re in and out modus operandi. And when you open a record with a track like “Cruise Control” you’re looking to get attention. The track is an all out barn burner, throwing everything great about No Age up front and center. There’s a dreamy quality as well. There’s something that lingers just in the background that elevates the track from a blast of noise pop to something ethereal. “Stuck In The Changer” continues that ethereal vibe, touting an almost Cure feel. There’s a real old school, early 80s 4AD/Sire sound going on here and I like it. “Drippy” is pure pop confection wearing a suit of post-punk durability. You’ll gladly take a kick in the gut from No Age as they shove this in your ears.

Randall and Spunt still fit in some art rock tendencies, especially in the album closer “Primitive Plus” and the fuzzed-out noise bomb “Soft Collar Fad”. “Third Grade Rave” is awash in feedback and psychedelic noise, making No Age sound like Cocteau Twins being devoured simultaneously by a Big Muff and a black hole. Title track “Snares Like A Haircut” is a dreamy instrumental that sounds as if Brian Eno manned the boards while No Age got crazy with the guitar pedals a bit. But even when they’re pushing the envelope regarding their own sound Randy Randall and Dean Spunt somehow turn intellectual intentions into something like transcendence. “Squashed” feels like a next level work here. It’s Bowie ‘Berlin Trilogy’ vibe and laid back indifference should be a jumping off point for where No Age go next. Could be the best thing they’ve done.

Snares Like A Haircut has No Age tightening up the sound and honing their studio sonic explorations into an effective weapon. They still put their art world aspirations into the songs, but in a way that serves the song and not just some kind of steely, cubist ideal. Randall and Spunt have made their best record yet.

Snares Like A Haircut will be released 1/26/18 on Drag City Records.

8.3 out of 10

 

 

 

No Age-An Object

What is it that No Age is so angry about? I keep listening to An Object and I’m wondering who rained on their parade? I mean,No-Age-An-Object they’ve always had this angst-y vibe about them.  Everything In Between seemed to be the point where they found the perfect balance of angst and rebellion mixed with a pop appeal, all the while never losing any artistic face. It seemed as if their next album would be a shining achievement. Instead, we get An Object.  It’s an album that at times hints at what could’ve been something monumental, but instead it seems to be a line drawn in the sand. If you cross, you enter at your own risk. If you don’t, well then you just don’t understand, man!

“No Ground” opens the album interestingly enough with a delayed guitar, then a driving bass line. That wall of guitar follows with drums hidden in the background behind muddied sonics. Dean Spunt yells about something. He’s angry at “you”.  Who “you” is is anybody’s guess. It’s a noisy opener that seems to stay in one mode: disenchanted. “I Won’t Be Your Generator” is a nice surprise. It hints at the greatness of Everything In Between and shows Spunt and Randall less aggravated and more inspired. “C’mon Stimmung” is the sort of dream punk anthem No Age are known best for. Much like “Fever Dreaming” before it, but somehow wore out sounding. As if these two are exhausted trying to figure out how to write a song unconventionally. There’s a back and forth on this album. A back and forth from ear catching to stunted and grating. It’s sonically in a grey area. No bright spots or dark corners. Just sort of muted. There are some really great songs, like “An Impression”, which sounds oddly enough like a lo fi Merriweather Post Pavillion b-side. The aforementioned “I Won’t Be Your Generator”, and “Running From A-Go-Go” both are truly great tunes. The latter half of An Object seems to be where No Age decided to loosen up a bit and allow the songs to breathe and grow naturally, as opposed to keeping with some rigid artistic manifesto.

No Age wants to spit in the face of convention on An Object, and that’s all well and fine. But when you start alienating the ears that have followed you and supported you for so long, well you end up playing to an empty room. Sure there are folks that will adore this record’s droning noise and artistic vision. The fellas even went so  far as to make the packaging for the record and ship the “objects” themselves, bringing them that much closer to the fans that bought the album. I think that’s admirable, I really do. But I’d rather the artist concentrate more on the balance between the art’s validity and intent, and less on printing UPS labels. I want to be challenged as a listener and lover of art. I don’t want easy entertainment. I want it to grow on me, and there are some songs on this record that I’m sure will grow on me as time goes by. But when you make an album so hard to break into and get to know, there’s lots of folks that will just drop it and move on. An Object is an admirable try at an artistic statement. Too bad that statement is so hard to understand at times.

6.1 out of 10