On the new album the noise rock duo tightens its sound and expands its horizon with another collection of great, loud pop songs.
On Everything in Between, No Age doesn’t really change up its winning formula. Like the collection of EPs Weirdo Rippers and the first proper album Nouns, the new album mixes noisy soundscapes with catchy hooks. The band likes to move between harsh ambience and punky pop, which has proven to be a winning combination. Unlike other bands that mix punk and ambient influences, No Age avoids the self-indulgent by rounding out its explorations in noise with melodic redemption. The duo has tightened up its approach and perfected its sound by sacrificing neither a commitment to loud overwhelming sound nor a love of good catchy melody.
The album opener “Life Prowler” starts with a quickly pounding kick drum that sets expectations for a rowdy fast punk song. But when the guitar riff comes in, it moves behind the beat setting the pace for Dean Spunt’s lazy vocals. There’s something comforting in his deadpan sometimes tonally flat delivery (very reminiscent of the cool guy timbre of Thurston Moore). The second track, “Glitter”, is maybe one of the band’s best songs yet. Along with the first single from the album, “Fever Dreaming”, the song pairs an infectious chorus with screeching feedback, a nice summary of No Age’s approach: to pair candy sweet melody with atonal earbusting din. On “Glitter”, Spunt sings “I want you back underneath my skin” and this sentiment pretty easily describes the working of the duo’s songs.
No Age’s aesthetic works through a sense of familiarity. The sound is a combination of references to the history of loud rock and roll. This approach has become more evident with Everything in Between, where guitarist Randy Randall has sharpened his power chords for a slightly more complex sound. The quick progression in the chorus of “Depletion” is reminiscent of the classic British Invasion 7ths and 9ths. “Depletion” expands perfectly into “Common Heat”, an acoustic-based track with a repetitive electric guitar playing a trebly almost-bass line in the background. Again, in the bridge after the chorus, Randall explores the range of chords that surrounds the main riff.
When I first listened to this album, I wasn’t really sure how to range it in No Age’s catalogue. It didn’t seem to do anything that different from the previous records. I had the same feeling about Nouns when it first came out. Following Weirdo Rippers, I had decided No Age was compromising its noisy background for more catchy songs. But each album expands with multiple listens and I’ve come to realize that No Age has merely found a more successful way to combine the two sides of its sound.
The main issue you might raise against No Age is that the lyrics tend to be fairly uninteresting. The words hit many commonplaces of rock and roll: depression, routine life problems, and so forth. The chorus of “Common Heat” repeats “Why do I come so close expecting to control / Everyone around me knows I’m in trouble.” This warning has been announced many times before that it’s no longer urgent. In the end, though, the fact that the lyrics don’t offer much to think about—except self-deprecating self-reflection—doesn’t take away from the music at all.
If No Age is the new way of punk, it’s a pretty great direction. In the spirit of punk, the band has encapsulated the feelings and sounds that have gone into making pop music over the ages. Like the Ramones -- Spunt’s vocal delivery also sometimes recalls Joey’s melodic staccato—No Age plays music made by fans. Everything in Between hits you over the head right away with five tracks of unavoidable pop songs. While the album seems to calm down on the second half with tracks that lean more toward ambience -- especially the back-to-back solo instrumentals from each member -- the calm isn’t so much of a hump as a quick respite from pop contagiousness. A few minutes to reflect before going back into the fray.
No Age likes its songs to climax. Whether a track begins with a wash of feedback noise or a relatively quiet vocal part sung over a pounding bass drum, chances are there will be a big pay off by the end. This may just be a repetition of the chorus you’ve already heard, but with bigger hooks and more guitar lines. The song structure is a holdover from punk days. Many classic punk songs build in intensity and leave you wanting more. On “Valley Hump Crash”, you’re left wondering for the first couple of minutes what the song is really trying to do; the verse is repetitive, not quite melodic. But all of a sudden, the guitar starts strumming insistently, the feedback growls, and Dean Spunt sings, “Catalina, take my hand / I don’t want to take you to another land / But I’m in the lonely streets of . . .” This latecomer chorus repeats until the end, as if the song was climbing and climbing until it finally reached a plateau that affords an unimaginably sweet view.
Just like its songs, the album finishes with a climax. The last two songs of the 13-track album blast away without tiring. The call and response verse of “Chem Trails” sung over a whistling guitar melodically anticipates a cheesy ‘80s chorus blowout that doesn’t quite come. Instead, No Age brings it back to their territory of energetic yet reflective punk intelligence that works so well. No Age is blaringly loud, intensely aggressive, and yet completely calm. The success of this sound is its ability to fuel the youthful furor of punk rock into something more productive; that is, writing really good songs.