August 27, 2013

No Age have always struck me as a band that makes more sense live than on phonograph. I’ve never had the pleasure of the former, but I just can’t seem to turn my speakers up loud enough to achieve the visceral effect for which the Los Angeles duo’s cacophonous brand of indie rock is known or the raw power documented in live videos. But I’ve vindicated this notion about other bands in the past. Lightning Bolt, another duo known for its noise-rock heights, sound restrained on record; witnessing them live, their presence is earth-shattering, their sound massive and uncouth. In an era where indie titans Arcade Fire and Bon Iver perform with eight-plus musicians on stage, there is still certainly legitimacy to the “less is more” constituency of live acts like No Age, Lightning Bolt, The Black Keys, and Japandroids: when a guitarist and a drummer alone tap in to that rare intimate rhythmic fiber unencumbered by any extraneous elements, it is raw magic. You simply don’t miss the violins and backup singers.

The duo of guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Allen Spunt have spent two albums (three if you count early singles compilation Weirdo Rippers) and a handful of EPs attempting to capture this chemistry on wax. While debut proper Nouns was hit-or-miss noise-rock, follow-up Everything In Between found them taking artistic chances, i.e. a fuller, more polished “dreamier” sound, with less throw-away noise tracks. An Object, their third full-length on Sub Pop, reneges somewhat on Everything’s expansion, featuring eleven sparser and harsher punk songs that clock in at just around half an hour. Like those albums before it, An Object is front-heavy, with the one-two-three punch of taut opener “No Ground”, “I Won’t Be Your Generator”, and brash lead single “C’mon, Stimmung” providing the record’s highlights. While those rank up with previous No Age standouts like “Fever Dreaming”, “You’re A Target”, and “Teen Creeps”, the remainder of An Object doesn’t stick around for long, with only droney closer “Commerce, Comment, Commence” lasting past the 3:05 mark. “Running From A-Go-Go” is possibly the most somber tune No Age have recorded, but the aggression in Spunt’s vocals still seethes through while delivering lines like “Truck stop in the middle of the world/ I don’t want to be alone again”. “An Impression” is the nearest sonic relative of the risk-taking Everything In Between, featuring a gentle bass groove and violin (!) accompaniment. 

For all intents and purposes, An Object is truly that: a tangible, stable artifact of a musical pairing that throughout its lifespan has thrived on tempered unruliness. The album cover plays on this notion, featuring the title in a myriad of contexts (with a period, a question mark, and most tellingly, in quotations). Randall and Spunt have taken painstakingly labored over manufacturing the record by designing, printing, boxing, and shipping the physical copies themselves. In the context of these efforts, A Object is conceptually an intriguing meta-comment on the physical commoditization of an incorporeal art form. In practice, one cannot help but itch to experience these songs live.