NO AGE – Nouns (2008)

No Age - Nouns Let’s talk about noise for a moment. No, really, let’s. I’ve got something to say about it, I promise. See, I like listening to noisy music. Sometimes. And when I do, I’ve got a few standbys that I’ll reach for; if I want to hear a raucous, energetic mess, I’ll listen to one of the three Lightning Bolt albums I’ve got hanging around. And I’ll be delighted. Conversely, if I want something a little more extreme, I’ll put on Merzbow’s Pulse Demon, and have my senses obliterated for about 70 minutes or so.

So when it comes to noise, I’ve got options. And frankly, I’m not about to revise any of them to make way for No Age, a band who look far more interesting on paper than they actually are. Their 2007 compilation Weirdo Rippers earned them a great deal of acclaim, but the album left me unimpressed. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t noteworthy. So while I failed to write the band off, I had hoped that with their next release, they’d deliver something better. Unfortunately, Nouns (the band’s proper debut, and their first release for Sub Pop), sees the band furthering the same ineffective style exhibited on Weirdo Rippers.

Miner begins the album with a promise, albeit an ambiguous one. The track, which is a little under two minutes, is unclear as to whether or not the album is going to be a noisy soundscape, pushed forward by punk, or vice versa. The mix here is curious; the vocals are soft – very, very soft – and you’d expect this to occur because everything else is smothering them. But that’s not the case. The whole song is thin sounding, like the old worn fuzzy blanket kicking around your basement that you’ll one day either throw out or sell at a yard sale. It’s charming, but worthless. That’s how the overall sound of this album strikes me, and that’s one of the biggest things working against it. But I should point out that at least at this point, there’s something on the table.

The second song, Eraser, tinkers with the sound a bit by tossing in some light acoustic guitar over the fuzz-laden backdrop. The vocals are slightly more audible here, but they’re still too buried to be fully comprehended. By now, I’m bewildered as to what the band are trying accomplish: the juxtaposition of the heavily-distorted guitars and breezy, light melodies is certainly a worthwhile thing to experiment with, but the way No Age pair and assemble them together is seriously unattractive (only on Sleeper Hold does it ever gel together).

Everything on Nouns is too rigid and unadventurous. The drums don’t step outside the box at all, sticking almost exclusively to the same pattern for the duration of whatever song is playing (the beginning of Errand Boy is a notable exception, although the drums compensate for their newfound vigor by dropping out completely after the one minute mark). The melodies are totally wooden. And those blankets of guitar fuzz (when it’s there) drift on and on and on, (still charming and still worthless) and whatever changes it may make are ultimately negligible.

The few, fleeting moments where No Age stop trying to shove atmosphere into their haggard brand of punk fare much better (although they’re certainly no more memorable). Here Should Be My Home is actually a pretty decent punk song, with a genuine worn-around-the-edges feel to it. But it’s easy to forget about, especially considering that the band choose to follow it with Impossible Bouquet, a two minute instrumental which fails to accomplish anything in it’s relatively short length – songs like this need time to evolve and establish things, and the band don’t give it enough time to make its mark.

In its defense, Nouns isn’t a one-trick pony. No Age try many things here, and wind up doing only one of them (straight-up punk) well. There’s tracks like Things I Did When I Was Dead, which sounds like it could’ve been an Animal Collective b-side, if it weren’t so comatose, and Brain Burner, a half-decent garage rock song that doesn’t realize that anyone can make a half-decent garage rock song. Then there are the interludes like Keechie, and the aformentioned Impossible Bouquet, songs which are so empty and out-of-place that, in the end, I’m grateful that’s there’s only two on the album. Nouns isn’t a total failure, but it’s certainly a casualty, one that arises from trying to pair the sonically devastating and avantgarde (like Swans, or Merzbow) with the high energy of noisy punk/garage rock (think The Black Lips or Be Your Own Pet), and then expecting them to play nice.

HD RATING: 3.5/10

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2 Responses to “NO AGE – Nouns (2008)”

  1. […] year-end praise, although I maintain that only one of these bands actually released an album that deserved it (hint: it’s the one that mixes Shakespeare and […]

  2. […] best albums of that year. This was, for those with indie short-term memories, the same year that No Age and Vivian Girls got praised heaped upon them for doing, essentially, nothing. Well, that last bit […]

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