In a musical universe where most of the notable movers and shakers are leaning heavily (and without shame) on Auto-Tune software and slick production techniques to move whatever units they can, the undeniably scrappy yet hypnotic pastiche of noise-rockers No Age is something of a marvel. While drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall undoubtedly have the melodic know-how and technical dexterity to lay down tracks worthy of mainstream radio airplay, there’s more joy to be found in the myriad ways they typically subvert any sense of accessibility in their songwriting. When there’s liberal application of bristling distortion, drawling vocals, and caterwauling feedback to an otherwise unassuming pop song, just about anything can masquerade as chaos.
Sometimes, it really is all just a bunch of bedlam, but No Age is the rare find that actually balances the fracas with enough subtle pop touches to keep their lo-fi aesthetic from becoming unattractive. Their 2008 debut, Nouns, worked this approach to the hilt by juxtaposing fuzzed out bits of punk fury with woozy slabs of ambience. For those who found that record to be a trying listen though, it’s unlikely that the duo will win them over with Everything In Between, another lean and visceral assemblage of songs that expounds on many of Nouns’ most endearing qualities.
Opening cut “Life Prowler” is not nearly as menacing as the pounding bass drum indicates; Randall quickly fills the texture with mainstays of the No Age sound, including an ethereal series of guitar arpeggios, grating feedback, and a distorted melody. “One time is all I need / to know my job’s complete,” sings Spunt, over crackling shards of guitar. For a couple of guys who typically prize volatility in their music, the song is shockingly heartfelt and reflective. Lead single “Glitter” kicks things into a higher gear though, with a boogying drumbeat and howling guitar feedback that’s not a far cry from Sonic Youth’s more punishing textures. Still though, the duo’s knack for singable melodies (“Everyone’s out to get you again / but I want you back underneath my skin”) and gently simmering atmospherics ensure that any hint of pain is equalized by something that actually mollifies.
“Fever Dreaming” is the LP’s first true blast of punk, as chunky power chords and a surging tempo propelled by Spunt’s frenzied drumming threaten to level everything in their path. A similar blue print is set for “Depletion,” another barnburner of a track in which Randall’s guitar squalls sear with intensity while Spunt begs, “Make up my mind.” Soon thereafter arrives “Skinned,” an album highlight that finds wonderful interplay between military-boot percussion, sludgy riffage, and melodies that vaguely recall 80’s New Wave, à la The Cars.
No Age has always faithfully interspersed its heaviest cuts with brief passages of spacey reverie, but on Everything In Between, the sequencing places four of the five most soporific tracks right next door to one another. Of particular note are the yearning and icy guitar melodies in “Dusted” and the gorgeous minimalist echoes that make “Positive Amputation” a far less disturbing soundscape than its title suggests.
The band comes out firing on all cylinders for its closing act; the squiggling laser beam drones and buzzsaw guitars in “Shred and Transcend” make it clear that naptime is over. “Chem Trails” acts as a somewhat goofy epilogue that finds Spunt and Randall in their happy places, trading vocal phrases (I’m surrounded by everything I feel is safe”) while the ubiquitous fuzz and jangle of the guitars jockey for position.
Everything In Between may not bring with it the hype that followed Nouns two years ago, but it’s nonetheless a worthy successor by a band that remains, by most accounts, inimitable.