If it wasn’t certain before, it’s gosh darn near undeniable now: No Age have got this stuff down. The duo’s debut, last year’s FatCat release Weirdo Rippers, was certainly something to marvel at. Largely a collection of past vinyl releases, Rippers extolled the virtues of pairing ambient drones with abrasive punk rock. Really, the title of the album said it all: while those songs were at the very core unabashed basement anthems, there was still something downright odd about them. Granted, this peculiarity only added to the record’s charm, and its wide critical and popular regard catapulted No Age’s Dean Spunt and Randy Randall into some sort of underground spotlight. Now signed to Sub Pop, the band has fast recorded a follow-up in Nouns: another bite-sized portion of blistering, fuzzy, DIY rock.
For what it is and what it aims to be, Nouns is a perfect record. It’s 12 tracks that rush by in a flash, each awash in layers of lo-fi guitar and percussion. Spunt and Randall’s ability to seamlessly transform pretty ambient textures into fist-pumping explosions of noise is on full display across the record’s span. A more streamlined collection than Rippers, here the band includes a few more straightforward rock songs than ambient collages, allowing them to flex their pop sensibilities more regularly. However, the band still blends their airy soundscapes into the mix with a masterful touch, unifying these songs more successfully than they had probably imagined.
“Miner,” “Sleeper Hold,” “Ripped Knees,” and “Brain Burner” are the songs that aren’t afraid to scuff themselves up, supplying pummeling doses of the band’s signature bass-less drum and guitar. No Age also don’t shy away from pure pop fare, as the clever hooks on “Here Should Be My Home” attest. The album’s first single, “Eraser,” is by far the most surprising and complex, as a loop of feedback and jumpy acoustic strings give way to an aural barrage. “Keechie” and “Impossible Bouquet” are strong ambient offerings, providing lush tones and a much-needed break in the attack. Similarly, “Things I Did When I Was Dead” is the softest the band has been, with a few lonely piano notes amongst a swirl of mechanical loops and slight vocal moaning. Spunt and Randall weren’t afraid of these kinds of experiments on their early releases, and its proving that they certainly aren’t about to stop now.
It’s ultimately comforting that Spunt and Randall haven’t shown any interest in bending their personal ethics in order to produce something more easily digestible by a mass audience. Nouns sounds as homemade as something released on a Warner Music affiliate could be. It’s crafted with a sense of pleasant haphazardness, gelling into one of those rare situations where everything that is thrown at the wall sticks. The album’s beautiful packaging and 68-page full-color photo booklet is a visual dedication to the people on the road and in the venues that allow music like that of No Age’s to thrive. There’s a genuine enthusiasm inherent in all of the band’s recordings, and Nouns sounds as much like a love letter to music itself as like a slew of sharp-edged punk songs. Lord knows the opportunity to clean up their act was in front of the band after the surprising popularity of Weirdo Rippers. But perhaps no amount of acclaim would have ever persuaded them to relent. Maybe, just maybe, there’s still some genuine articles left in this fuzzy world.