LA’s Favorite Noise-Punk Duo Returns
Ten years have flown by since 2007s Weirdo Rippers, when we were first exposed to the exuberant art-punk of LA-based duo No Age. The musical DNA of punk, let alone indie rock, has morphed and shifted dramatically in that decade-long interim, but fans of No Age will be happy to see the band return to old habits. The band’s latest release, Snares Like A Haircut, is their first release on Drag City, following a healthy tenure with the indie rock titan, Sub Pop. The combined label shift and five-year gap since 2013’s An Object marks an even further refined sound for the band.
Snares Like A Haircut lands somewhere between the experimental soundscapes found on An Object (an album mostly written in the studio), and the ensconced tuneful crunch of ’08s Nouns. The band’s new material is mature and introspective, more melodic and texturally pre-meditated than their past releases. At certain points on the album, like on the instrumental titular track, “Snares Like A Haircut,” it seems as if No Age have grown into themselves a little more—that confidence, that understanding of how to make a record, is oozing throughout this entire project, and for that reason, Snares Like A Haircut is perhaps the most polished album this band has ever released.
No Age has been mostly off the radar for five years – a long time, sure, but fans of theirs should be more than sympathetic of such a break, given that the time spent off the road has been the most critical contribution to the freshness of their new material. In a recent interview with SPIN, lead vocalist and drummer Dean Spunt said that time off allowed the band to decompress and experiment with new sounds: “Time to explore different avenues, different parts of the world, parts of the city, parts of anything. When we’re touring so much, every night, constantly playing—we don’t have time to space out and jam.” This desire, to “space out and jam,” is found everywhere on the new record, and it makes for some rich and complex listening.
Over guitarist Randy Randall’s atmospheric guitar loops and Spunt’s sharp rhythm work, Snares opens with the Real Estate-esque “Cruise Control.” The band is back to their old ways of impossibly texturing punk songs to a hypnotizing degree. “Doesn’t matter where you are / The shoe fits, and just the same / Unless your mind is blown again,” sings Spunt, and for a moment it sounds like the young, garage rippers’ old selves. The duo moves into a thumping middle-eight section and the song moves along at a lively pace. But for the last quarter of the song or so, the drums drop out and we hear the white noise of guitar feedback until the song’s natural death. This marks a rather prominent stylistic element to the band’s new material: the songs almost prefer to be left unsung, as if vocals weigh heavily on the delicate balance of ambient noise and quick drum work.
“Drippy,” the band’s second new single, is as textured and bubbly as one would expect given such a title. The duo gets more entrenched in their shoe-gazey dispositions and Spunt’s observational lyrics punctuate the song’s driving rhythm. At sub-three minutes, “Drippy” is the album’s shortest song, yet it is packed full of busy instrumentation and painstaking lyrics so that it feels much longer.
The album’s first single, “Soft Collar Fad,” announces its loud presence right off the bat. Structurally, the song is relatively simple (three chords and lots of guitar effects), but it makes up for any structural clarity by cascading around these echoes and the industrial noises, a mark of advanced production that gives the song a charming, though still headbanging, level of professionalism. “Soft Collar Fad” serves as a strong reintroduction for No Age fans, both new and old, and it fits nicely right in the middle of a well-developed sequence of pop-punk.
Like the album’s titular track, the song “Third Grade Rave” is entirely instrumental, and sees Spunt’s drumming take precedence over ambient guitar loops. This song transitions seamlessly into the penultimate track, “Squashed,” a mercurial, very trippy, downtempo reflection on a loved one of years’ past.
Nearly every song on this album clocks in at just under four minutes, but nearly every song here feels much longer—a testament to the intricacies of Spunt and Randall’s songwriting ability. From the ambient slow roll of the title track and “Third Grade Rave,” to the album’s driving singles and B-sides, Snares Like A Haircut is a pronounced return for a heavyweight band whose music is maturing alongside its members. The sound is still noisy, still appears designed and arranged in a garage recording studio, but there’s an introspective sense of wisdom found tucked deep inside the layers of feedback and parsed drums, a voice set on slowly announcing a long-awaited return.