Coming of No Age
Los Angeles duo grows up without losing sight of the past
Over the course of three full-length records, Los Angeles two-piece No Age have operated inside of their own experimental-punk bubble, making music that balances ambient iciness and beauty with the charred chaos of punk rock. Sometimes that punkness came through in the lyrics and vocals, while the music would be going in the exact opposite direction. By the time No Age released 2010’s Everything in Between, guitarist Randy Randall and percussionist-vocalist Dean Spunt had distanced themselves musically from L.A.’s punk-rock hub The Smell, landing somewhere more otherworldly.
No Age is set to release their fourth LP, An Object, this month. The album continues to refine—but not redefine—the band’s sound, but the first thing you might notice is the three-year gap between records. This from a band that had been cranking out LPs, 7-inches, cassettes—you name it—at a ferocious clip since forming eight years ago. The extra time was not planned, but as they began writing material for the new album they found themselves slipping into old habits. “I felt like we had to call bullshit on ourselves,” Randall explained. “We had to step away from some of the artifice of being in a professional band.”
That meant not trying to write songs necessarily designed for live audiences. “This time out we were like, ‘Let’s just write the songs we want and worry about it then,’” Randall continued. “Now we’re here, and we’ve sort of painted ourselves into a corner.”
An Object concentrates more on sound than melody. Spunt experimented with different percussion sounds, including tapping on contact mics. Some of the songs would be near impossible to pull off live. Instead, Randall and Spunt have had to twist and bend them into versions that work for the stage. “I Won’t Be Your Generator,” for one, is creepier and more intimate live, and the two have even toyed with the idea of recording the new versions. As Randall put it: “We made this toy, we can break this toy.”
That malleability speaks volumes about these songs, even if they aren’t reaching maximum volume. “My Hands, Birch and Steel” and “Commerce, Comment, Commence” are more intricate, and sound fussed over, while opener “No Ground” and “C’mon Stimmung” retain some of the band’s pricklier SST Records influence. In fact, the louder moments are more effective because there are fewer of them.
The art begins before you hear a single note. As with past releases, the members of No Age hand-assembled the packaging for An Object, folding 10,000 LPs and CDs themselves. Randall said, without being too precious about it, that he likes the idea of imperfection and the humanness of it.
That DIY philosophy goes back to No Age’s days at The Smell, and it’s still the backbone of the band. But a few things have changed as the members have gotten older. Randall, who spent his formative years in the suburbs of the Inland Empire, recently relocated outside of Los Angeles proper. It’s farther away from any scene, although the move seems to fit with No Age’s new philosophy of keeping with certain ideals without becoming stagnant. And An Object is in line with that.
“It’s a balance of getting comfortable, and being uncomfortable,” Randall said. “I want to be professional enough to keep my guitar in tune, but unprofessional enough to have fun.”