Review: No Age – An Object
Published on August 21st, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Following on from 2008’s Nouns, An Object is the second No Age album to be granted a grammar-based title.
Okay, we made that up. Although who knows? After all, “No Ground” – the opening track here – makes punctuation a strength, stopping and starting quite thrillingly in between scrambled, order-flaunting blasts of what we like to call ‘random lead’.
You know, fast-picking the strings while flailing your hand up and down the neck of the guitar at random; as in the real meaning of the word ‘random’, not the popular “OMG last night was literally so random!” misappropriation of our age.
LA duo Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt have a fine knack for carving superior modern garage rock out of sheer combusibility, equal parts early My Bloody Valentine and early Beulah.
This sort of thing inhabited the second half of 2010 predecessor Everything in Between, which actually felt like a bit of a shame. Don’t get us wrong, it’s good stuff, but it didn’t feel like No Age putting their best foot forward.
Their best foot, at least to Rocksucker’s ears, is showcased in that album’s first few tracks. That’s where the title Everything in Between feels most apt, its alien arrangements of distortion – a shriek here, a buzz of static there, even vastness-implying yawns à la Sigur Rós – ‘colouring in’ the relatively straightforward grunge-pop at its core.
Basically, No Age have it in them to sound like no other, and they do it sensationally. What they haven’t done yet is sustain that over a whole album, and An Object is no different in this respect.
In others, it is: the lower register of Spunt’s vocals is immediately obvious, gone the nasal sneer of old, while “An Impression” and “Lock Box” make use of what may or may not be a drum machine.
The jerky popping and clicking of the former certainly sounds as if it could be, as does the fast rumble of the latter’s verses. However, there’s also an organic crunchiness to these respective rhythm sections, consecutive within the album’s running order, so we’re not so sure.
Instances of ingeniously applied guitar effects do make themselves known. Though it largely channels the warm, driving fuzz of Everything in Between cut “Common Heat”, “I Won’t Be Your Generator” features a sound in the perimeter of its mix that seems to gear up like a piece of machinery that’s just been switched on.
For its part, “C’mon Stimmung” kicks things up with a chiming, whirring high-end motif that sounds oddly like a steel drum screaming. (Admittedly, there’s little chance of that not sounding odd.)
“Defector/Ed” is a standout, enshrouding its whalloping, bottom-end-rich chugs in chirruping birdsong and a buzzing, scraping swarm of insects hewn from finest feedback.
Given how ‘normal’ the song is at its heart, it really is quite remarkable how peculiar how the track sounds as a whole. Such embellishment is also found in the twittering electronics of “Running from a-Go-Go” and the introductory flurry of quacking (yes, quacking) guitars on “Circling With Dizzy”.
“A Ceiling Dreams of a Floor” conceals a cricking, crinkling noise in one corner of its mix as rushing waves of enraptured feedback erupt from within, before “Commerce, Commerce, Commerce” rounds off proceedings in a way that may underwhelm at first but that, upon revisiting, reveals itself as an engrossing soundsape.
Ultimately, Spunt’s mention in “Defector/Ed” of “a knife without a blade” feels like an unwitting summation of No Age when they’re not going all out to surprise and amaze us at every turn.
They just do that so well; and, although An Object is hardly found wanting for experimentation, they’re still too easily sidetracked from what it is that makes them great.
An Object is out now on Sub Pop Records.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!