After they released An Object four years ago, No Age seemed to disappear. It seemed a somewhat strange decision. Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt, the Los Angeles experimental punk duo, had become indie A-listers. They were on Sub Pop; they were playing big music festivals; they’d played Letterman. Yet seen from another perspective the decision to take a step back and reassess makes complete sense. There was always that feeling that they were distinctly punk in their outlook, in everything they did – that they were doing their own thing. An Object had been ambitious, but it also felt like it floated too much, concentrating more on the ambient drift side of their sound more than their visceral, serrated rock one.
Now they’re back and they sound more vital than ever, focusing on the punk side of their “dream punk”. In the intervening years they’ve parted ways with Sub Pop and signed to Drag City and the move seems symbolic in its lack of compromise: it means you won’t find Snares Like A Haircut on Spotify and it’s seen them add muscle and ferocity back to their sound.
Throughout, the album buzzes with a relentless energy. Everything that made them so vital when they released Weirdo Rippers, Nouns and Everything In Between (perhaps their masterpiece) is here, a touch more refined maybe, but still visceral and thrilling. The band have described the album as “driving music” and opener ‘Cruise Control’ sets the tone, jumping out of the speakers and thundering forward with a kinetic momentum.
Snares is reminiscent in some ways of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth – it’s dense, propulsive, and atmospheric but also accessible. Spunt has never been a natural crooner but there’s more singing here than ever before and Randall coaxes melodic riffs out through his mountain of effects pedals.
Of course there are still swathes of beautifully clattering ambience that but it’s weaved into the muscular flow of the record. It’s an album packed with immediate hooks and swaths of pure audio beauty that wash over you one minute and knock you down the next. ‘Drippy’ is urgent, immediate and yearning while ‘Tidal’ is all flailing, fidgety, guitars and cardboard box drumming. ‘Elsewhere Soft Collar Fad’’s insistent fury recalls their earliest material.
The four years away also lends the lyrics a wistful feel – about growing up, finding your place in the world and missing people and friends. Nowhere is that more apparent than on last two songs – ‘Squashed’ and ‘Primitive Plus’ – which are swathed in a hazy aura and, together with ‘Don’t Send’, are full of beautifully scuffed reflective radiance.
With all the jittery unease and anxious nervous energy that currently pervades the world, it feels like these times are calling for a band like No Age. This is a record that doesn’t try to make sense of it all, instead with all its woozy energy and blistering, dizzying feedback-laden anthems, it captures that sense of agitation that surrounds us. While it may not quite reach the heights of Everything In Between, it shows No Age have returned to take on the world head on.