Album Review: No Age - Snares Like A Haircut

Existing in the space that forms between beauty and cacophony, the Los Angels based duo No Age pull elements from both a dreamy, shoegazey aesthetic, with the confrontational edge of noisy, artistically leaning punk rock.

Together for well over a decade, No Age has been relatively quiet since the release of An Object during the summer of 2013. Their minimalist website hasn’t been updated since the end of October, but prior to that, it was used as a means to announce they had signed to Drag City (leaving behind the hallowed name of Sub Pop) and were prepping the release of Snares Like A Haircut, their fifth full-length release.

For a band comprised of only two people—guitarist Randy Randall and vocalist/drummer Dean Allen Spunt, No Age makes a lot of noise—their songs are short, often full of nervy energy and tension, and are incredibly dense, with Spunt’s rhythms often pummeling and punching their way through Randall’s layers of frenetic electric guitar strumming, both dissonant and melodic—occasionally both at the same time.

Snares has all of those elements and more—it is hook driven, exuberant, and still moderately accessible even when a song is weighed down by what seems like an ocean of dissonance. A collection of 12 songs, there is energy to spare throughout, and it’s structured so that only a handful of the songs aren’t seamlessly connected from one to the next.

Opening with the blistering, cacophonic, and sneering “Cruise Control,” Spunt and Randall never really let up, or lose their momentum, even when Snares heads into experimental territory, like the whirling, instrumental titular track, or the cavernous, dizzying, and brash “Third Grade Rave,” which winds up being one of the album’s finest and most interesting moments—and may, somewhere in there, feature a saxophone?

I’ve been doing this for five years now, and I try to remember—at least by name or cover art—the albums that I’ve written about. In preparation for this review, I searched ‘No Age’ in my music library, and came up empty handed, but did find an old (and rather short) write up on An Object from August 2013. It would appear that while I had some pleasant things to say about the record, it’s not the kind of thing that stuck with me, and the album did not survive some kind of iTunes purging that took place between then and now.

I worry that the same fate may meet Snares Like A Haircut. Maybe it’s the time of year—through no fault of their own, first quarter releases are notoriously forgettable as you make your way through the rest of the year, and the myriad albums that come with it; or maybe it’s that punk rock is hard. Noisy, experimental, guitar-heavy music is not what I would listen to in the evenings as I read and sit with my companion rabbit. It’s not what I would put on in the car as I run errands. It’s probably not what I would listen to with headphones as I dink around on the computer during my afternoons off from work.

Snares Like A Haircut, and No Age’s commitment to making thought provoking, truly artistic, slightly difficult while still being ‘listener friendly’ music is commendable and admirable. They make it seem effortless but it more than likely is not—I don’t know where you’d begin with finding the time to explore all of the various guitar tones used here, or, simply, where the duo find the energy they pour into each song, and how they manage to keep it going.

I’m uncertain if there is a ‘return to form’ with a band like No Age; however, in an interview with Stereogum, Spunt agrees that An Object was not as well received as their other efforts, and laments that fact. What Snares Like A Haircut does is finds the band walking a tightrope that does a surprisingly even job of covering their various sonic ideas, all while looking forward and refusing to look back.