It might seem presumptuous to make such a claim, but No Age has already become something of an indie rock institution in a mere five years of existence. Although the elder statesmen tag might never apply to these all-ages boosters, Randy Randall and Dean Spunt are definitely leaders of the neo-garage rock revival, boasting a brash iconoclasm and a resourceful ambition that have made the very most out of working with a bare-bones formula of guitar, drums, samplers, and vocals. On a more local scale, the two are hometown heroes for putting the L.A. lo-fi scene on the map, the most prominent success story to come out of the Smell DIY art collective. But more than anything else, No Age has pretty much perfected a distinctive sound that is easily identifiable as something all its own, but with enough room to grow, which bodes well for the duo’s long-term posterity.
From the pounding noise that ushers in the group’s third album Everything in Between, No Age seems intent on firming up its reputation by doing what it’s been doing all along, just maybe a little better. Far from being the same ol’ same ol’, Everything in Between expands on No Age’s combo of brutal melody and simple experimentation in ways that are thrilling and provocative even as they’ve become familiar. That’s not to say there aren’t a few new wrinkles on Everything in Between, but they’re more like adjustments rather than an overhaul of something that has worked pretty well so far. Though it’s way too early to tell, the best comparisons for how No Age goes about its business are probably Sonic Youth and Superchunk, considering how Randall and Spunt create inspired variations on more or less the same theme.
On Everything in Between, No Age makes no apologies for sticking to its trashy, thrashy art-rock aesthetic: As Randall told the LA Weekly recently, “If you get the opportunity to hear us, and you like this kind of thing, then you’ll be into it. Either you are or you aren’t.” The leadoff track “Life Prowler” works from this premise, grabbing hold of its listener’s attention with pile-driving beats, which give way to an almost meditative guitar line that’s the calm middle of a sonic shit-storm. It’s the reverse negative of “Miner”, the opener on 2008’s Nouns, which starts with steely sheets of guitar effects before hammer-like rhythms pound their way to the fore and mess things up. Indeed, No Age’s go-to move is the way it squeezes every last drop of melody out of abrasive, crude noise with a vise-like grip, best evidenced on “Glitter”, which manages to create something tuneful and gleaming from the collision of loping guitars, ear-splitting feedback, and syncopated handclaps.
Yet as bruising and forceful as Everything in Between may be, Randall and Spunt are anything but brutes, rather perfectionists who just use bold strokes as the tools of their trade. No Age might beat you over the head with its play of textures and sounds, but it takes skill and imagination to make the right juxtapositions in the first place. On Everything in Between, the twosome pulls off a neat trick, seeming tighter and more streamlined than ever before, while shaping soundscapes that are also more expansive and roomy. You can hear it on “Fever Dreaming”, with its layers of pummeling rhythms, careening scream-like distortion, and almost sparkling guitars. Like an early Dinosaur Jr. rager that’s compressed and sped up, “Fever Dreaming” is also No Age at its most anthemic, with a shout-sung refrain of “Keep on dreaming” that gets across earnest sentiment without being sentimental. And don’t let the title of the relentless, catchy “Depletion” fool you, though you’ll probably be worn out keeping up with No Age’s take on Buzzcocks-like power pop, which definitely puts more of an emphasis on power, while teasing you with just enough pop.
Maybe the sharper contrasts have something to do with it, but No Age sounds just a touch clearer on Everything in Between, the rhythms coming off crisper and heavier, while the melodic counterpoints have a little more luster. While they could’ve been spread around the record better, the instrumental breaks-in-the-action that have always been a part of the No Age experience show how the band’s compositions can be rough-hewn and carefully wrought at the same time. “Katerpillar” is a basement shoegazer affair that has a thrift-store My Bloody Valentine vibe to it, while “Positive Amputation”, with its minor-chord piano and melancholic atmosphere, might as well be a garage-rock version of a Mogwai epic, possessing surprising depth and spit-shined splendor.
What really adds another level of unexpected complexity this time around is No Age’s maturing vocals, which run the gamut of emotions. Most compelling is the grown-up thematic of “Common Heat”, on which Spunt stresses over going to work, finding his cleanest shirt, and getting out of debt, while a shuffling beat and frantically strummed guitars in the background raise the anxiety level. Each time Spunt repeats the lines, “Why do I come so close expecting to control? / Everyone around me knows / I’m in trouble,” he seems more and more spent, as if No Age was growing old and responsible over the course of the song. On the flipside of what comes with time and experience is the album’s final track, “Chem Trails”, which feels like a moment of relative tranquility after all the chaos, more carefree, poppy, and even sweet than anything else by No Age. With Spunt singing, “I’m surrounded by what I feel is safe / I don’t need anything to come between,” No Age sounds at peace in the vocals and almost upbeat with the easy, loose tempo of the closing number.
Whatever the future has in store for No Age, the still-young duo has already given itself a hard act to follow with two outings as strong as Nouns and Everything in Between are. Then again, No Age is trying to prove that it might one day belong in the rarefied company of the bands it has recently been sharing the stage with, Pavement and Sonic Youth, groups that never rested on their laurels or were intimidated by the fact that their earlier accomplishments would be tough to top. Like those who came before them, it’s almost a given that No Age will continue to strive for more, no matter how high the band has already set the bar for itself.