Many bands under the broad limbs of the post-punk tree share a similar career arc: They start out as young hooligans being noisy as shit, but eventually with age and experience settle into making some semblance of pop music. If they’re a good band, they will retain some of their crazier tendencies that drew people to them initially, as well. Sonic Youth comes to mind, as does the Jesus and Mary Chain. Then there are lo-fi acts like the Mountain Goats and Guided by Voices who eventually feel the need to go hi-fi. It’s not selling out--it’s just coming to the realization that noise and crummy production can only take you so far and can become stale elements themselves. Last year, Los Angeles-based duo No Age released their Losing Feeling EP and it came as a shock to many, including our own Brian Shultz. It consisted of a more traditional No Age rocker preceded by three gentler/more experimental songs, so the shock was not unwarranted. A year later, their second proper full-length Everything in Between gives the duo more room to spread out and present their most assured statement yet, containing a nice mix of punk/rock songs, mellow strummers and trance-inducing loops, all supporting their most melodic vocal work to date.
“Common Heat,” sharing sonic tendencies with Losing Feeling’s “Genie,” may be the most extreme example of the band’s evolution since Weirdo Rippers introduced them to the world: an acoustic guitar and tasteful electric lead are accompanied merely by shaker and tambourine, and Spunt’s vocal line is hotter in the mix than ever. It shows he’s gaining confidence. Then there’s the single, “Glitter,” starting out like their “My Sharona” but turning into a spacey ditty with Spunt reaching to his lower register (probably where he should be singing): "I want you bad underneath my skin." “Valley Hump Crash” could be the way to get your friend/girlfriend into No Age: It’s catchy and pretty safe to start, but then at about 2:30 caterwauling feedback ushers in the barrage of rock they have come to be known for.
My opening paragraphs might worry some into thinking I will say that No Age have transformed into some slick pop-rock act. No worries; there is no question they still fall under most sane people's definition of a “punk band,” but the roughness around their edges is becoming slightly less rough. Dean Spunt is increasing his once-miniscule vocal range and is writing more thought-out, hookier melodies. He is still consistently flat and continues to double-track his vocals to the detriment of his songs, but it’s becoming easier to ignore. They still get crazy with uptempo songs like “Fever Dreaming,” which has a gnarly guitar squall sample acting as the song’s biggest hook. “Shed and Transcend” will tear your face off with its long instrumental intro of far-between chord changes and Randy Randall’s careful coaxing of feedback from his amp. “Depletion” is a simple head-bobber and has some awesome sustained-note guitar leads. The way Randall layers his guitar tones/textures and how he overlaps different strumming rhythms on this album is phenomenal.
Near the album’s end we get a short cool-down with two instrumental numbers, one a solo effort by Spunt and the other by Randall. Spunt’s “Dusted” is like many of their repetitive and dizzying sample-based song tidbits we've heard before, but Randall’s “Positive Amputation” marks the first time I would call something by the band “beautiful.” My Bloody Valentine guitars churn and layer harmonies throughout while simple piano chords and higher plunks cut through to add a sparse melody. While this is not typical of their work (even on this album), this is my new favorite No Age song. “Chem Trails” ends the album with an acoustic-propelled toe-tapper, with Spunt and (maybe) Randall trading off lines in a manner never heard before from the duo. Then there’s what sounds like popcorn popping. It’s probably the “happiest”-sounding song we've ever heard from them.
It appears No Age do age (rimshot, please). They are growing into bigger sonic shoes and gaining confidence both in their technical abilities and in their ability to rock and not rock. I’ll let you know, such growth from a “punk band” is normally not okay, guys--but I’m going to allow this.