From the release of their debut compilation Weirdo Rippers, Los Angeles duo No Age has operated as almost two entirely separate bands. Primarily recognized as a punk band, No Age has repeatedly proven themselves an unstoppable, volcanic force of blazing distortion and relentless energy via 10-ton anthems such as “Sleeper Hold.” Beneath that punk rock sneer, however, lurks a band adrift in dreamy abstraction. As much a shoegazer or post-rock act as a punk band, No Age has frequently been known to juxtapose a nebulous, loosely constructed piece like “Keechie” or “Impossible Bouquet” up against one of their louder, more aggressive tracks. Disparate though these aspects of their sound might be, the brilliance is in the way they intersect. Playful experimentation with effects make their punk songs more abstract; fuzz and sheer volume make their instrumentals kind of punk.
While No Age has gradually been moving toward greater accessibility, they’ve also subtly worked at bridging the gap between their aggressive side and their dreamier, more textured side. Their second album, the all-too-appropriately titled Everything In Between, finds Randy Randall and Dean Spunt reconciling their seemingly contrasting sonic approaches on an album that’s not just their most accessible release yet, but also their most dense and stratified. There is less of a divide between heavier rave-ups and feedback-driven instrumentals, instead finding the duo focusing on melody and songcraft in a more dynamic, sophisticated fashion.
The massive bass drum thud that kicks off album opener “Life Prowler” is a bit of a tease, tempting the listener with the promise of a forceful eruption, but instead unfolding with clean, tuneful riffs and ethereal samples. “Depletion” takes almost the opposite tack, beginning with the sound of a looping, understated guitar riff before blasting into one of the duo’s trademark punk rock throwdowns, albeit one that surges with dense sheets of distortion. And the pair of solo instrumentals featured, Spunt’s “Dusted” and Randall’s “Positive Amputation,” are two of the prettiest songs in the band’s catalog, sounding more like shoegazer ballads than exercises in noise and ambience.
Curiously, though, the irony about Everything In Between being the band’s most accessible album is that it shies away from the immediacy of singles like Nouns‘ “Eraser” or “Teen Creeps.” The album’s first single, “Glitter,” is undoubtedly catchy, but not by conventional standards. Randall’s layers of guitars don’t so much chug as screech and flutter, intertwined in an ecstatic shoegazer embrace. Yet as he makes beauty out of chaos, Spunt offers uncertainty through a tempered and calm delivery, singing “I’ve been wondering/ when is it my turn to get a win.” Spunt sustains the angst on “Common Heat” via expressions such as “Why do I come so close expecting to control/ everyone around me knows I’m in trouble,” while stepping away from his drumkit, allowing Randall’s gorgeous melodies to carry the song.
When No Age pushes the throttle, however, subtlety and extra ornamentation hardly seem necessary. “Fever Dreaming” is just such an instance, a blazing monster of a punk song that sounds massive despite consisting of little more than power chords and a fierce beat. Further evidence that few acts maximize resources effectively like No Age can are the two songs that close the album, “Shed and Transcend” and “Chem Trails.” At three minutes apiece, these stunners find Spunt and Randall coming at the listener with every weapon in their arsenal. While “Shed” piles on an ungodly amount of distortion and an irresistible level of energy, “Chem Trails” is simply a perfect, shoegazer-inflected pop song, complete with a gorgeous bridge augmented by the sound of firecrackers.
However subtle No Age’s sonic shifts have been since their first handful of EPs, they’ve ultimately resulted in a more confident and more powerful sounding band. Everything In Between is, in some respects, a logical progression from Nouns. Their melodies are stronger, and their production more nuanced, with less separation between formerly contrasting stylistic impulses. What once was a sonic tug-of-war is now a harmonious convergence.