September 3, 2010

Album Review: No Age's Everything In Between

If the music world hasn't gotten used to the fact that a band does not always equal a single member playing every instrument known to man to get the job done, then it should by now. Los Angeles duo, No Age, have been defying such odds for the past several years through a smartly organized conglomeration of experimental noise and sampling amid catchy punked out guitar riffs and drumming. 2007's Weirdo Rippers was a collection of singles and b-sides that displayed the many facets of sound these young noisemakers were capable of making while their official debut, Nouns, saw the duo gravitate their efforts toward cohesive, punchy pop punk that swooned inside a sea of shoegaze. However, last year's Losing Feeling EP saw Randy Randall and Dean Spunt outgrow the snot-nosed attitude in exchange for something a bit more artsy yet still engaging. The resulting transition has led No Age to their latest sophomore effort, Everything In Between.

The long story short is that No Age has done quite a bit of growing up in just two years. Even recent pictures taken since No Age revealed they were releasing Everything In Between show Randy and Dean looking less messy and volatile in exchange for something more subdued and classic in the vein of button-up shirts and a cleaner style. While image can mean jack in the music world, outward appearances can be a reflection of one's current state of mind, which may explain why Everything In Between has No Age making music that will last and be talked about decades from now.

Life and dealing with it plays an important role in both the energy and sound of this album. While past No Age songs often kept lyrics either sparse or vague, Dean Spunt reaches into his gut this time around to paint the noisy landscapes with meaningful words. "Life Prowler" is the opening heartbeat of Everything In Between, and it's Spunt's affirmation of his own purpose ("One time is all I need to know my job's complete and when I reach into myself, my path has come true...") while first single, the scorched guitar scaling "Glitter," finds Spunt malaising about an unsatisfying relationship. It's noteworthy to say Spunt sings his words with less angst than his past vocal work in exchange for something more accepting and assured. What this does is open the door for No Age to craft songs that find a happy medium between experimentation and fresh melodies. The sequential "Fever Dreaming," "Depletion" and "Common Heat" are all uptempo fuzzy rockers that don't involve much space to wander off into bleeding rounds of noise, yet it's still there underneath Spunt's words and pace keeping on drums. If anything, Randy Randall has refined his approach to No Age's fuzzed out bridges and hooks by packing in as much creativity into smaller pockets of time.

In no way does Everything In Between's evolution in direction suggest that No Age has lost their edge in the process. While a track such as "Valley Hump Crash" has airy moments of light, beachside haze (Much like the music from their fellow California counterparts in the lo-fi pop scene,) its rough, crunchy textures pull its energy through more like a riptide than a soft wave. For those who do enjoy No Age's moments of noise ambiance, you still get your instrumental fill in "Sorts," the cold wave-y "Dusted" and the static-driven "Positive Amputation." However, the finest moment that validates why The Smell scene's most infamous duo are making the right move toward something great is the album's closer, "Chem Trails." The kisses of swooning samples, distorted jangly acoustic guitars and softer drums (alongside Randy getting in on the vocals!) in a pop hook is to No Age as to what "Gold Soundz" is to Pavement in the way that less is more, yet it still sounds like so much more is going on here from a band known for their complexities.

In an interview with Dummy Magazine, Randall said he felt the sound he and Spunt created on this album was "Maturing. Not getting boring, just getting -- richer." While it's amazing that just two musicians did just that in a way most four-piece bands can only dream of, his spot-on assessment proves that No Age has a firm handle on their aspirations that will continue surprising their listeners for years to come. While the past of noisy indie rock sees itself deeply indebted to the catalogs of Sonic Youth, Pavement and Guided by Voices, No Age's Everything In Between places Dean Spunt and Randy Randall in line as the most capable of carrying on the tradition for a new generation of noisemakers.

No Age's Everything In Between will be released September 28, 2010 on Sub Pop Records.

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