by Dylan Pennell (@dylan_pennell)
No Age were born into potentially the finest year we’ve had for music this young century. For a year that spawned so many classics, it’s no wonder that the going got tough for some of the acts releasing their debut or seminal releases in that year. Luckily for No Age a quick follow up made well on the promise of their debut and showed a band cleverly navigating the narrows of an increasingly tricky world of “indie” music. No Age never opted for grander statements or for bulking up their sound to please larger audiences, rather they kept honing their songwriting while simultaneously delving deeper into the orb-like washes of feedback and loops. When Randy Randall and Dean Allan Spunt’s power-duo came back from a three year gap between Everything In Between and it’s follow up An Object they seemed less interested in the music and more engaged in the means of release, developing and manufacturing 10,000 copies of the release in an ergonomic oddity unparalleled in music history. Most critics would agree that because their attentions were focused on the means of release, the music suffered, but over the years the album has aged gracefully and serves to add another satisfying chapter to the band’s punk deconstruction.
Since 2003 and even since No Age’s last release in 2013, the music scene has changed, to say the least. The relationships between buyer, artist, and object has never been as tenuous as now, with the advent of streaming platforms as the most prevalent means of listening. So now, over four years later, there is little else to judge or appreciate in No Age’s new album Snares Like A Haircut than a band who have come to be one of the sturdiest underdogs in the game.
Just where No Age land in the current musicscape is hard to peg. It’s unlikely that they are earning new fans as the venue sizes in which they perform stagnated years ago - knowing the band’s ethos, however, it’s likely this is a conscious choice of theirs - and it’s hard to say whether they are creating the same excitement and expectation that Nouns birthed. Free of the weight of expectation and the extracurricular antics of their former release, this may be the first release of No Age’s career that seems as close to objectively lacking context as the band has ever had. Given the lack of discussion points, this could also be the most crucial point in the band’s career, the point at which we are finally able to let the smoke of hype subside and appraise the music for just what it is.
And, oh, look at that. Now it’s got context.
What No Age prove with their latest release is that the band never needed context to begin with, rather all they needed was to continue approaching their singular brand of deconstructed punk with the same abandon that made ambient thrashers like “Eraser” and “Every Artist Needs A Tragedy” feel so endlessly refreshing. And so it goes that abandon is what they give us.
Much like the albums that have come before the band has never been much for varying their songwriting style or dynamics. Some songs come crashing through the gates begging to be played live (“Cruise Control,” “Soft Collar Fad,” “Secret Swamp”) while others flirt with the experimental (the rapid near heart attack of “Snares Like a Haircut’s” drums) and much like their last album, at least one disarming ballad (“Send Me”). What becomes apparent over this seemingly predictable record is not the ways in which No Age are unwilling to progress or vary their sound to stay vital, but rather what a celebrated institution they should be. Albeit they’ve never had the tunes to shoulder the same career as a band like Spoon, they’ve shown themselves to be journeymen of commensurate worthiness.
What probably stands out most on a record like this, actually, might not even be the songs, but the steadfast and unhalting artistic integrity on display. Though there have been times when it looks like No Age was working to craft sharper and likely-to-catch songs - just look at the progress from Nouns' singles to Everything In Between’s - it would seem that they have resisted the urge to go big and rather have chosen to answer to a higher artistic calling. It always felt somewhat suspicious that the band continued to play the smallest venues in town - the last time they were in town they played at a local batting cage and their upcoming date is in the basement of the celebrated First Unitarian Church - but now that feels more like an intentional attempt at continuing a intimate relationship with their audience more than career stagnation. In a time when few (truly) resist the urge to go big, No Age are here to remind us that the most rewarding career is not always one that peaks and then plummets, but rather the one that is able to sturdily chug along, continuing to offer the same pleasures they’ve always guaranteed and to no less of an effect. While that might feel self-serving to some, after all these years, it would be near impossible to say that we haven’t all benefited from it.