Review of No Age – Everything In Between

Words like “accomplished” and “discipline” seem opposed to the very ideals on which punk was founded. But L.A. dream-punks No Age seek to straighten up and fly a little straighter on Everything in Between, tamping down their whiplash tempos, prying open their songs to let a little more air in, further settling into their frantic sound. Their songwriting’s grown in leaps and bounds, evincing unexpected depth yet never shying from a satisfying detour. And their sound’s become more balanced; hot blasts of dissonance have been turned into smoldering pockets of noise. Everything in Between is a grown-up, downright respectable record about the pitfalls of being a lifer with a 9 to 5, and the sound’s matured along with their outlook. Less ferocious, more deliberate but in many ways more compelling, Everything in Between finds No Age matching a new, nuanced approach to their expansive noise.
By this point, you probably know what goes into a No Age song: A scuzzy intro jumps face-first into a thrashabout hook, either jumping again into another firestorm or swelling to a swift end. On 2008’s Nouns, they cut these ripcords through with huge, gorgeous clouds of sound. It worked beautifully at the LP level, but the songs themselves felt shot out of a cannon. They didn’t always leave room for nuance.
Everything in Between fiinds a little space for everything. Randy Randall’s guitar now buzzes and howls throughout these songs, providing them with a backbone rather than simply standing behind them and shoving. Dean Spunt’s drums go from a wet thwack to a wild carnival stomp as the situation dictates, seeming to take on new forms as the LP progresses. Every tone, from Randall’s guitar squeals to Spunt’s impassioned shouts, feels treated, scuffed up, warped. But the sounds are more spectral, less squalid, a product of Randall’s varying his guitar tones and the duo’s embracing a few more patient tempos. Rather than stepping to one huge precipice at the edge of every song, they’ve made them more jagged, played up the inter nal tensions, and traded in one big thrill for a seemingly self-propelled series of precision blasts.
Structurally, Everything in Between doesn’t shy far from the Nouns formula: Several hook-forward numbers anchor the front half, the floatier stuff mostly shows up around the two-thirds mark, and they close the thing out with a total banger. But the tunes themselves are longer and slightly more traditional (they actually liked a couple of these choruses enough to sing them twice), and the punk rock urgency of their past work’s been tempered slightly by a more deliberate pace and Randall’s trickier, rustier, less world-beating guitar riffage. It all calls to mind less straight-up SoCal punk and more rangy, roughhewn indie rock; there’s flecks of Dinosaur Jr.’s lazy crunch in “Valley Hump Crash”, plenty of Hüsker Dü’s pop urgency in “Common Heat”, enough Sonic Youth to go around everywhere. They’ve opened up their tone palette so much here, it’s as though just about anything could be around the corner. The drone bits feel especially purposeful this time around; “Positive Amputation” has all the skyward motion of an Explosions in the Sky tune, and nearly every time they pull back into these sonic curlicues, the record seems to breathe. They’ve long felt like a hardcore band with excellent noise instincts, but Everything in Between is where you realize they’re mostly a rock band with a ridiculously good ear for sound.
Tuning into No Age for Dean Spunt’s lyrics has always seemed a bit of a fool’s errand; his tales of youthful malaise are accurately but rarely vividly rendered, and besides, it’s not always been easy to make him out through the din. Spunt’s voice, though still occasionally inaudible, sits far higher in the mix here on Everything in Between, sticking his lyrics– and his thin, pleading voice– at the center of some of these songs. Spunt’s still not exactly a masterful singer, and he’s just shy of the pitch a time or two here. He’s putting his voice to better use though, with a batch of lyrics that underscore the motivational appeals to action that have long hovered around the No Age project. If the record’s got a thesis statement, it’s somewhere in its first line: “One time is all I need to know my job’s complete,” Spunt notes, before proceeding with his most detailed, deliberate record yet. Despite the obvious care that went into it, Everything in Between‘s hewn-from-pure-noise songwriting still feels more like a ridiculously good run of happy accidents than anything resembling hard work– and it’s shot through with an unassuming left coast attitude that makes the record all the more ingratiating.

— Paul Thompson, September 28, 2010
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