Album Review: No Age – People Helping People

[Drag City; 2022]

Each No Age album feels a little different from the last. The rough and unrefined sound of the L.A. noise rock duo’s debut compilation Weirdo Rippers back in 2007 was a delightful change of pace compared to the dominating indie rock sound of the mid-2000s. They followed it up with an equally noisy, but eclectically poppy masterpiece Nouns, before going slightly alt-rocky on their truly excellent Everything In Between in 2010. Guitarist Randy Randall and vocalist/drummer Dean Spunt had a trajectory from there, but opted instead to pivot even more harshly.

The result was the misbegotten An Object – a DIY record with a stripped down approach that didn’t quite jive with the noise or indie landscape of 2013. Not overtly negative, but definitely not a warm reception An Object ended up being No Age’s last record for Sub Pop and the last we’d hear from them for five long years. The jump to Drag City for 2018’s Snares Like a Haircut was rejuvenating, and that record reminded us all of why we loved that rickety duo’s music in the first place.

So another pivot after their largely pop influenced Goons Be Gone from 2020 shouldn’t surprise anyone. No Age have always been an experimental band, look no further than their dream-punk EP Losing Feeling where the twosome toyed with dream pop and shoegaze elements and managed to wholesomely assemble them in perfect combinations.

An Object’s experimental nature was a bitter pill to swallow though, given how straightforward Between was. An Object felt like a self-indulgent project, an attempt to reconnect with their early days after years of rising stock.

What the duo hoped to achieve with An Object can now be appreciated by way of their sixth album People Helping People, an album of micro-aggressions transferred into voice and noise. This isn’t an album of hooky punk rock, and it’s not an album of disjointed melodies stitched together poorly. No Age tackle the minimalist approach to An Object but instead of dialing back their muses they dive fully in.

There’s a handful of instrumentals strewn throughout – the lo-fi opener “You’re Cooked” is a standard No Age tactic, coaxing us in with familiar territory that can be heard on just about any release, whereas the closer “Andy Helping Andy” employs the same dynamic but with samples to disrupt, bringing People Helping People full circle somewhat.

“Plastic (You Want It)” slurps around like muddy boots on linoleum, all the while Spunt belts in ways never heard before. These are brittle songs, dense and wooden with sharp splinters that may be painful to hear at first but once dug into become impossible to remove. “Compact Flashes” is a prime example, with its minimal output but maximal density thanks to the cavernous production.

The most pop oriented moments are subtle but evident. “Violence” has a repeated “vuh-vuv-vuh-vi-o-lence” that’s droning but playful. Even if these songs don’t make for a casual listening experience they definitely make for a unique one – case in point, “Flutter Freer” which finds Spunt yammering over some of the tandem’s noisiest backdrops with a myriad of sounds to pinpoint (banjo!).

There’s conventionalism in spots: “Rush to the Pond” and “Tripped Out Before Scott” might be as close to something from Goons or Nouns you’ll find here, but No Age aren’t really concerned with repeating themselves. Most of these tracks were written pre-pandemic, which makes it a more realistic follow-up to Snares Like a Haircut than Goons aesthetically. It won’t draw new fans in likely, but anyone who’s been following No Age this far are bound to find something worthwhile here, and that’s precisely who the band made this record for.