Randy Randall and Dean Spunt have always come across as a couple art house punks with a hell of a lot of conviction. This Los Angeles noise/art/punk/rock duo known as No Age have never sounded like they’re particularly adept at their instruments, at least at the beginning. They came across as a couple sweaty punks pushing some higher, deeply buried agenda underneath the grime and grit of a lo-fi noise band that was equally influenced by Sonic Youth’s EVOL and pop art heroes like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. With each successive release their sound got tighter and less far flung. Weirdo Rippers(2007) begat Nouns(2008) which begat Everything In Between(2010). With Everything In Between No Age seemed to have hit the height of their powers, mixing their lo-fidelity vibe with pop hooks for miles nearly perfectly. It seemed that with 2013s An Object No Age felt the need to mix the art world with the music world and the results were mixed. Randall and Spunt, besides playing art rock in No Age, worked with artists and filmmakers in various art installations and live-scoring films. They physically created, printed, packaged, and manufactured 10,000 units of the record themselves, making the whole album a DIY passion project. While the record came and went, it’s not without its moments of greatness.
No Age have returned to record making after nearly 4 1/2 years. They left Sub Pop Records for Chicago’s Drag City and bestow upon our ears Snares Like A Haircut. The album is a return to form. It’s a shot of disgruntled pop that carries a certain New York art scene feel while still permeating with plenty of pop hooks and free-wheeling punk abandon. It tows the line between statement and pure feel.
This record feels epic at it’s nearly 40-minute run time, as opposed to No Age’s usual 28 or 29 minutes, we’re in and out modus operandi. And when you open a record with a track like “Cruise Control” you’re looking to get attention. The track is an all out barn burner, throwing everything great about No Age up front and center. There’s a dreamy quality as well. There’s something that lingers just in the background that elevates the track from a blast of noise pop to something ethereal. “Stuck In The Changer” continues that ethereal vibe, touting an almost Cure feel. There’s a real old school, early 80s 4AD/Sire sound going on here and I like it. “Drippy” is pure pop confection wearing a suit of post-punk durability. You’ll gladly take a kick in the gut from No Age as they shove this in your ears.
Randall and Spunt still fit in some art rock tendencies, especially in the album closer “Primitive Plus” and the fuzzed-out noise bomb “Soft Collar Fad”. “Third Grade Rave” is awash in feedback and psychedelic noise, making No Age sound like Cocteau Twins being devoured simultaneously by a Big Muff and a black hole. Title track “Snares Like A Haircut” is a dreamy instrumental that sounds as if Brian Eno manned the boards while No Age got crazy with the guitar pedals a bit. But even when they’re pushing the envelope regarding their own sound Randy Randall and Dean Spunt somehow turn intellectual intentions into something like transcendence. “Squashed” feels like a next level work here. It’s Bowie ‘Berlin Trilogy’ vibe and laid back indifference should be a jumping off point for where No Age go next. Could be the best thing they’ve done.
Snares Like A Haircut has No Age tightening up the sound and honing their studio sonic explorations into an effective weapon. They still put their art world aspirations into the songs, but in a way that serves the song and not just some kind of steely, cubist ideal. Randall and Spunt have made their best record yet.
Snares Like A Haircut will be released 1/26/18 on Drag City Records.
8.3 out of 10