The Sub Pop debut by this LA duo is succinctly all encompassing, from the faux simplicity of the title to the beautiful distortion of its sound, to the packaging that includes a 68-page full-color book packed with photos and art pieces. The record opens with a symphony of noise and sometimes creeps, sometimes smashes through a sonic headlock befitting "Daydream Nation"-era Sonic Youth, Kiwi pop, My Bloody Valentine, and experimental noise.
Review by Tim Sendra
Divorced from all the talk about the return of the lo-fi sound, the scene revolving around the band's home base in L.A. (the Smell), and the group's rep as no-nonsense noise punks, you have the music of No Age. All that stuff is just background -- what matters is the sound coming down the wires as Nouns clatters and hisses on through to your ears. The duo of Dean Spunt (drums and vocals) and Randy Randall (guitar) are proudly noisy, drawing influence from early-'90s lo-fi acts like Eric's Trip as well as the New Zealand sound of that decade. They make no attempt to clean up their sound (though it does seem slightly more professionally recorded than the singles that made up their first release, Weirdo Rippers) as amps hum, drums clatter like garbage cans, and voices shout and holler. It's an arresting amount of noise and it may put you off initially. If you stick with it past the first wave of fuzz, though, you'll be captured by the songs, because No Age aren't about noise alone. Below that less than pristine (to be kind) sound there are songs. There are rollicking freak-outs ("Here Should Be My Home"), folk songs tossed about by waves of fuzz ("Eraser"), and careening rockers with hooky choruses ("Cappo"). Take them out and scrub them up a bit, and they would be as shiny and clean as things you might actually hear on the radio. After a polish it's not hard to imagine "Teen Creeps," for example, playing in the background of a teen movie. "Sleeper Hold," too, could be the theme song for any manner of triumphant scene; the chorus has the kind of hook you'll be singing all day. Choosing to bathe the songs in noise adds an extra layer of sound, sure, but also creates an epic battle between melody and noise, between beauty and grunge, that gives the album a real sense of drama. Also adding to the sense that something is at stake on Nouns are the lyrics. There are no simple love songs here -- mostly twisted fragments of isolation and ruin with the (very) occasional bit of tender hope thrown in to keep you from throwing in the towel. In the final count, melody and beauty, fractured as they may be, win the day. Like fellow noise poppers Times New Viking did on their awesome album Rip It Off, No Age turn noise into gold on Nouns.
[Sub Pop; 2008]
It's disingenuous to talk about Los Angeles' New Yorker-profiled, vegan-snacks-serving, book-lending, all-ages venue the Smell with the same high-art vocabulary you'd use to dissect other creative collectives, like Andy Warhol's Factory-- the Smell's constituency (L.A.'s optimistic experimental art pack) appears un-fixated on fame, self-aggrandizement, or furthering its nascent mythology. To an outsider, the Smell is idealistic and romantic, a stroller-friendly, cheap-haircut-hocking haven that's as functional as it is fruitful. Save Baltimore's Wham City, it's been a while since American music fans have had a similar hometown scene to get riled up about; regional culture has been fractured and marginalized by the internet, and being too focused on anything local-- except produce, maybe-- feels depressingly provincial in 2008. Consequently, it's weirdly thrilling that a community-sponsored, community-supported art space can attract (and sustain) such a horde of admirable bands.
No Age, along with Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda, Lavender Diamond, BARR, and a handful of others, are mainstays at the Smell; the cover of No Age's 2007 EP compilation, Weirdo Rippers, famously features the exterior of the club, and guitarist Randy Randall reportedly helped mine trenches in the venue's concrete floor so that a second bathroom could be installed to accommodate new crowds. Given the critical success of Weirdo Rippers, No Age's scope has now expanded well beyond Los Angeles, and Nouns, their first full-length, is appropriately ambitious.
A guitar/drums duo (Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt) with a penchant for self-recorded samples, No Age are mostly unconcerned with things like space or pause, and Nouns is gorgeously thick-- a hazy, delirious expanse that's both comforting and disorienting. Opener "Miner" begins and ends in murk, and in between Randall and Spunt sputter and twitch and pound, alternately revealing and concealing a sweet, taut melody-- such is No Age's agenda, burying an addictive little singalong in layers of effects and fuzz.
"Eraser" is more immediately user-friendly, opening with sunny guitar chirps and a knee-slapping drumbeat, before Spunt starts barking intelligible lyrics ("Wait for the foreman now get paid/ Wait and see the list of shit you made") and the music goes steady and frantic. "Eraser" is a summer song in the sweatiest, most realistic sense-- it's not the Beach Boys' gooey, über-idealized, convertibles-and-beach-volleyball version, it's the waiting-for-the-bus, sweaty and desperate but still-sorta-excited-about-all-that-sunshine take. "Here Should Be My Home" is similarly exuberant, full of power chords and distortion; it's arguably the poppiest thing No Age have recorded to date (all those cries of "baby" are practically bubblegum), and accordingly, completely addictive. "Sleeper Hold", meanwhile, is the sound-- both literally and metaphysically-- of everything happening all at once, an ecstatic, feedback-addled lullaby.
Some fans might pine-- at least at first-- for the (vaguely) more experimental, less riff-driven muck of Weirdo Rippers, but Nouns is a more thoughtful, coherent (and still plenty dirty) version of what No Age began building with all those EPs. Listening to Nouns, it's hard to comprehend how just two people can manage to make so much noise while still sounding so subdued and mysterious-- it's easier to imagine Randall and Spunt spewing these songs underwater, bursting forth from some colossal California quarry rather than a tiny, stuffy art space a few blocks from L.A.'s skid row. Nouns is so cacophonous, so fertile, and so ripe with sound that parsing out the samples and effects and various layers of guitar is nearly impossible; besides, it's way more satisfying to just close your eyes and just enjoy it. Ultimately, it's part of No Age's allure that Nouns is so difficult to figure out, that it manages to be so big while coming from a place so small: All you'll know for sure is that you want to listen longer. Maybe forever.
-Amanda Petrusich, May 05, 2008