August 4, 2013

Album Review: No Age's An Object

To their credit, No Age never makes the same noise twice, and with each new album, you could say that the Los Angeles experimental punk duo go the extra distance to prove themselves to the music world all over again. With two full-lengths -- three if you count 2007's breakthrough singles and B-sides collection Weirdo Rippers -- having already won over critics and amassed a dedicated following, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall haven't strayed very far from their origin as staples birthed from the DIY space the Smell, nor do they seem interested in doing the veteran indie rock player thing with bigger production budgets or bringing some brand name producer in from the outside to fine-tune their sound.

Their 2011 sophomore effort (and #1 album here on AwkwardSound that year) Everything In Between may end up being the closest thing that Spunt and Randall ever do to layer their complex arrangement of fuzzed out guitar pop, looped samples, ambient noise and cantankerous rhythm onto the same canvas in a cohesive sense, and with that out of the way, the duo has gone back to square one with their newest effort An Object. You could say this is No Age's "hardcore" album by design, as it rifles through the SST catalog where sped-up tempos and down-tuned guitar and bass lines kept at a minimum cemented the Black Flag sound, only to be intellectualized with meticulated reverb later on by Hüsker Dü. And yet, Spunt and Randall beautify the grittier elements of the genre by molding them into a less abrasive kind of noise -- One which only could sound like No Age. Its also a forced restart of sorts for the duo, as its the first time that Dean Spunt steps away from merely providing perfected percussive and steadies his hand at the bass and fronting amplified mics, giving An Object an intentional amateur feel to it as if the two are forcing themselves to rethink the way they've been playing music all along.

Opener "No Ground" along with latter tracks "Defector / Ed," "Lock Box" and "Circling With Dizzy" are the LP's starkest moments where wide spaces left around Randy Randall's guitar work focuses your attention on the exacting detail behind his newly compacted riffs. It's in these songs especially where that nakedness provides the clearest window for Spunt to speak-shout onto the canvas, unlike An Object's more pop-addled listens such as the repetitive sprawlers "I Won't Be Your Generator" and "C'Mon, Stimmung" as well as the lonely tour life traveler "Running From A-Go-Go" where the imbalance of Spunt's atonal vocals and Randall's illustrious amp work neutralize the unkempt fringes. "An Impression," placed perfectly within the LP's mid-section, is its wandering standout coated in a saccharine haze, plucky guitar and percussive loops, and a flaring violin that offers a tranquilizing middle-ground between the different poles No Age explore throughout the album. To a lesser degree, An Object's closing duo, "A Ceiling Dreams Of a Floor" and "Commerce, Comment, Commence," are crafted like unfinished realizations of this approach that are meant to evolve with your senses, be it via stereo or on stage, mimicking the open-to-interpretation explorations of Weirdo Rippers years ago.

An Object places the noise No Age has collected throughout the last several years in suspended animation over Dean Spunt and Randy Randall's heads, and then pulls in ideas for the sake of seeing how many different variations of a sound can made with them. Be it making the most from modest production or challenging their hands in a new position or way of playing within the studio, the experimental punk duo's latest turn here does what their luminaries did in intentionally rebelling against a sound to see how much they could kick out of its guts. In No Age's case, the duo breaks down "Nervous Breakdown" as well as their own catalog to find out what would happen if chaos was introverted and internalized instead of physically inserted into your face. At an average of three minutes length per a song, what you get on An Object are a collection of moments that can be assembled and disassembled by the end user until the finished product satisfies your expectations.

No Age's An Object will be released August 20, 2013 on Sub Pop Records.

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