No Age hit the scene in one of either the coolest or most hipster-elitist ways possible, depending on your personal tastes and views of the music world today. Barely over a year ago they released a string of five vinyl EPs on five labels, later compiling the best for a full album available on CD, Weirdo Rippers. The drum-n-guitar duo are artists and indie-art supporters, and in this, their proper full-length debut, they pack in a 68-page booklet which showcases photography and movie stills by them and their friends, all with an index of the crowd shots, haunts and venues shown. Most notable would be The Smell, the LA music and art venue that helped birth the band as well as their former group, as they were two-thirds of the hardcore act Wives. No Age branches out from that with a noisy, lo-fi, bash-em-out style that could be compared to Times New Viking or the Thermals' early work, with all three managing to burrow some melodies into the fuzz. But No Age get a bit artsier than those groups, heavily employing loops and samples. Since their inception, the blogosphere has buzzed about their live shows, but when I checked out Stereogum's videos from SXSW I can barely stand it (can you?). The vocals are off-key (and high in the mix here), the samples obnoxious and the guitar desperately needing some low-end help. Do people love No Age just because they're weird and abrasive or cool guys? Luckily, Nouns sounds a helluva lot better than those vids while still maintaining the band's edge.
With a bit of a stretch, the band makes me think of Hüsker Dü, who could be their wall-of-sound, aggressive-yet-poppy, simple-yet-artsy ancestors. Hell, No Age must be fans for they nabbed their name from an old SST compilation. Even as "Miner" starts things off I'm reminded of New Day Rising, as the vocals in both albums' openers are nearly inaudible, and I'm thinking I'm in for some melody excavation. But then a song like "Teen Creeps" comes on with the vocals higher up and it sounds like a damn radio single in comparison. In the full-out rockers, Randy Randall's different guitar tones keep things fresh. "Ripped Knees" starts with some grungy distortion, then switches to a jangle, then mixes them. "Here Should Be My Home" managed to become one of my favorites for having one of the most memorable chorus vocals of drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt. Those lighter-tone guitars appear on that song too and sound sweet, but I reiterate: It needs bass! Some bands try to cover up their lack of a bassist with super-distorted low-end guitar tones, but these guys couldn't seem to care less about it.
For a band so indebted to punk and noise and with such limited instrumentation, No Age is no one-trick pony, thanks mostly to their samplers. In a Pitchfork.tv interview (here) Spunt talks about how much he was into My Bloody Valentine, and while I never made the connection previously, some sonic similarities did start to surface, like how the intro of "Eraser" uses similar techniques as the beginning of MBV's "Cupid Come." "Things I Did When I Was Dead," with its drum machine and one-note bass drone, recalls MBV's "To Here Knows When," and just as the effects and tone of Spunt's vocals start to grate on you, beautiful and oddly piano-sounding guitar chords chime in to save the song.
"Keechie," the longest song here, is both vocal-less and drum-less, an ambient tune that recalls Sonic Youth. It was one of the four songs recorded at Southern Studios in London, famous as the spot where Psychocandy went to tape (strange how everything I've been into lately can be linked to that album in some way, huh?). The other instrumental "Impossible Bouquet" gives off an Animal Collective vibe with acoustic guitar, more drones and squiggly pitch-bent samples. Both of these tracks don't so a whole lot for me, but are nice in that they break up the blasts of hissing rock. "Errand Boy" kinda gets to me in its second half with its rumbling guitar drone that just sits there under the apathetic vocals. The problem with a lot of these samples is they seem so similar -- synth, guitar or sample drones that don't provide much other than a headache. Sometimes, however, you get that cool Mission of Burma thing goin' where you'll pick up on some sound of unknown origin that you have to credit to sampling. Sure, No Age's sampling beats you over the head more than Martin Swope's ever did, but in rocker "Cappo," that fuzz-buried moving melody reminds me of that. The album ends strong with the two tearing through "Brain Burner," with its crash-heavy beat and tight trebly guitar progression, a super simple and practically one-part song. The crackling nature of the drum sound was achieved partially by recording the drums with a broken cassette recorder, and you can check out more of those interesting production tidbits in Drowned in Sound's track-by-track interview with the duo (here).
No Age is making all the right moves in their still-fresh life as a band, expanding from their hardcore roots just as the `80s saw the punk/hardcore scenes expanding in so many amazing directions. Still, I wonder if people go ape-shit for these guys more for their aesthetic than their actual music. The dudes seem to be very socially and scene conscious, giving back to the people that have helped them and that's honorable. Their visual appeal -- from the 'don't give a shit' punk attitude to the DIY art vibe -- plays into their draw as well. I like all that about them, sure, and while the music does mostly rip it up, it sometimes falls short of my expectations. The melodies tend to not go quite where I would like them to (or don't go there enough) and sometimes I wish Spunt could sing just a pinch better. Overall, I'm diggin' on the album, but if you're checking them out for the first time don't just follow the hype blindly; make sure you're liking these guys for the most important reason: their music. It's not for everyone.