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The most confusing way you can describe No Age is that they’re a punk band that people listen to for the production. This means their fans aren’t necessarily punks, though the two-person band whose singer is the drummer would be anomalous even so. The way that No Age aren’t punk is the same way that Nirvana wasn’t punk, the same way the Replacements weren’t punk. It’s good company. And not only did it attract Sub Pop’s interest in 2008’s breakthrough Nouns, but Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, neither quite in their thirties yet, are even more vital in distortion-starved 2010.
The first lines on the new Everything in Between (a title for a record clearly proud of its genre-straddling) are “One time is all I need/To know my job’s complete,” which is too eloquent a summation of the punk one-take ethos to actually be punk. Ironically, No Age are the first punk band since Le Tigre to benefit from the public domain of loop technology the way, say, Soulja Boy has. Their chaos is neatly controlled, the offhand squeals and scraps seemingly plotted on graph paper. The songs—when they’re songs—are vitamins. They’re too-efficient riffs and recycled parts (from Green Day, Hüsker Dü, wherever) melded into quick, bent doses of necessary guitar-rock for those otherwise besotted by Beach House and Four Tet. The parts are rarely grander than the whole, which is welded together with interstitial tracks that let you know they’re a Serious Band: “Treefingers”-goes-Mogwai instrumentals that sound like fastidiously prepared Eno rather than, say, Pavement’s impromptu rec-room jams. If I sound like a jerk pinning all this down, forgive me: I’m celebrating the duo’s unlikely graduation to Their Own Sound, not charting their calculations.
Because they revere their DIY base and eternally support their home scene (debut collection Weirdo Rippers featured L.A. flagship venue the Smell on the cover), No Age were raised too modest to brag about the new sonics they’re inventing, the way Everything lead single “Glitter” and the hectic “Fever Dreaming” turn screaming glitches into hook riffs, or the way the “Skinned” backbeat is like a concrete body being dragged by the ankles. The only rhythm element on “Sorts” sounds like a bag of detonating popcorn. But the songwriters attain warmth by transposing these quirks with the overtly familiar: The repeated trade-offs in “Glitter” recall the Nirvana of “All Apologies” or “Lithium,” until they culminate in a resolutely hopeful mantra of “I want you back underneath my skin.” “Chem Trails” fulfills the folk-punk promise of Jay Reatard covering the Go-Betweens. And one of the record’s best moments isn’t new at all: The acoustic guitar that starts “Valley Hump Crash” could be introducing the Who’s “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand.”
Everything isn’t vacuum-sealed like Nouns, though, and on risks like the unplugged “Common Heat,” I’m saddened to learn that Spunt’s singing most resembles Daniel Johnston’s when all that beguiling feedback is gone. And while their homespun ambient is now as familiar as Yo La Tengo’s 10-minute organ jams or Be Your Own Pet’s 40-second pizza rants, it dominates the second half with one showcase too many (Archers of Loaf did the feedback-and-piano-balladry of “Positive Amputation” better on All the Nation’s Airports). I don’t think it will prove their fatal flaw—No Age’s adrenaline stage has lasted at least one album longer than the Ponys’, or Liars’. And in an age where bands have finally cashed in on unlimited artistic freedom, bless these guys for not outgrowing themselves too quickly. Fabricating the friction from the bygone era of Art vs. Commerce may prove their greatest trick yet.