No Age turns up the noise in anx­ious times

Randy Randall and Dean Spunt go on the at­tack with ‘Ev­ery­thing In Be­tween,’ their most am­bi­tious, and per­sonal, al­bum yet.

Los Angeles Times - - Arts & Books - Au­gust Brown

On an un­sea­son­ably chilly Satur­day night in Au­gust, the mem­bers of No Age are stand­ing in the park­ing lot of a bleak ware­house near Ver­non, a few blocks from the iron­ic­pas­toral mu­ral dec­o­rat­ing the Farmer John’s slaugh­ter­house. Randy Randall and Dean Spunt are eat­ing cold pizza, shiv­er­ing in their sweat­shirts and sur­vey­ing the thing that will soon kill them.

“It looks like some­thing you’d build to de­fend your­self from the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse,” Randall, 29, said, point­ing at a ma­chine in the back of a nearby trailer. The grue­some de­vice is made of 10-foot-high spools stud­ded with sol­dered chains and blades on a ro­tat­ing plat­form. Each can spin fast enough to grind up a whole house, to say noth­ing of the soft ve­gan bod­ies of L.A.’s pre­em­i­nent arty noise duo.

Within a day’s time, this con­trap­tion will gnaw the fur­ni­ture in No Age’s liv­ing room, sever their hands as they try to read books, un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously de­cap­i­tate them and fi­nally ren­der their tor­sos into buck­ets of sop­ping gore. “When L.A. turns into ‘Mad Max,’ ” Randall joked, “This thing will be use­ful.”

“This thing” is an off-screen prop for di­rec­tor Pa­trick Daugh­ters’ video for “Fever

Dream­ing,” a sin­gle off the group’s third al­bum of ephemeral, elec­tron­ica-re­fracted punk, “Ev­ery­thing In Be­tween,” out this Tues­day. CGI will place Randall and Spunt in the chewed-up liv­ing room later, and the sop­ping gore is ac­tu­ally pigs’ blood se­cured from a butcher.

The scene is a droll vis­ual con­ceit that’s equal parts art­house and grindhouse — per­fect for No Age’s mix of brainy am­bi­ence and flail­ing hard­core. But it’s also a loom­ing re­minder of the last two years that made “Ev­ery­thing In Be­tween” the most phys­i­cally tax­ing al­bum yet.

‘It’s hon­est’

Af­ter the duo’s de­but for Sub Pop, 2008’s “Nouns,” No Age faced the ex­pec­ta­tions of lead­ing what’s pos­si­bly Amer­ica’s most fer­tile scene for in­ven­tive rock mu­sic, along­side bands in­clud­ing Health, Abe Vigoda and Best Coast. Once based at the down­town venue the Smell, it’s now dis­persed across larger record la­bels and venues — even in­clud­ing the Hollywood Bowl, where No Age will play Thurs­day with long­time in­spi­ra­tions in feed­back Pave­ment and Sonic Youth. The job left Randall and Spunt feel­ing fraught with anx­i­ety, lone­li­ness and a lurk­ing de­pres­sive dark­ness. To beat it, they had to see their band anew.

“I’ve al­ways liked be­ing vague in this band, and there’s a lot per­son­ally I could have hid­den from on this record,” Spunt, 28, said. “But it’s heavy and it’s hon­est and I know it’s not an easy lis­ten. And I’m OK with that.”

No Age’s early sin­gles — col­lected on the 2007 com­pi­la­tion “Weirdo Rip­pers,” whose ti­tle still adorns the Main Street fa­cade of the

“Ev­ery­thing’s” first sin­gle, “Glit­ter,” starts with a doo-wop drum clap, a dis­tant crackle of dis­tor­tion and, fi­nally, a keen­ing three­note gui­tar riff and the band’s most forth­right pop melody yet. Through­out the song, how­ever, they use vi­o­lent shrieks of noise for punc­tu­a­tion and tran­si­tion. In “Fever Dream­ing,” in lieu of a proper cho­rus, they craft a sim­i­lar pitch-less howl from the depths of their dis­tor­tion ped­als. The lateal­bum tracks “Dusted” and “Pos­i­tive Am­pu­ta­tion” are im­pla­ca­bly sad, lyric-less tone po­ems that feel like a cham­ber quar­tet play­ing Steve Re­ich pieces as dis­tress calls on a sink­ing ship.

“When we were writ­ing ‘Fever Dream­ing,’ I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘God that’s a noisy part, but that’s a hook,’ ” Spunt said. “I kind of felt bad when we were mak­ing the video and play­ing the song back, like we were sub­ject­ing the crew to this gnarly thing. But then I saw a guy walk­ing around go­ing ‘Whaaaw-whaaaw’ and sing­ing the feed­back part and I re­al­ized that’s what you’re go­ing to re­mem­ber from it.”

Grow­ing pains

The band has a strong foun­da­tion in such ex­per­i­ments, writ­ing and per­form­ing live scores to the avant­garde na­ture film “The Bear” at the Silent Movie The­atre in 2009 and scor­ing ashort for the much-cov­eted fashion line Ro­darte. For di­rec­tor Daugh­ters, per­haps best known for di­rect­ing the span­gled dance-off in Feist’s clip for “1,2,3,4,” No Age’s ap­proach to con­tained chaos makes for a rich tem­plate of vis­ual and emo­tional pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“We talked about how the process of be­ing bro­ken down makes you stronger,” Daugh­ters said. “The screech is a re­cur­ring theme and feels de­struc­tive but we wanted to pace the video slowly and de­lib­er­ately for a con­tra­pun­tal and less lit­eral ef­fect, to make the vi­o­lence cre­ative.”

Dur­ing the mak­ing of “Ev­ery­thing,” how­ever, the band mates won­dered if they might get mired in that vi­o­lence and never re­al­ize the cre­ative end of the process. The al­bum came af­ter years of its most in­ten­sive tour­ing to date, runs that kept mem­bers from loved ones (Spunt sep­a­rated from his long­time girl­friend, Jen­nifer Clavin of Mika Miko and now a mem­ber of the elec­tron­ica band Cold Cave, be­tween al­bums) and wore on their psy­ches as they dwelled on the end of their 20s and the ex­pec­ta­tions of mov­ing their strange, im­prob­a­bly pop­u­lar band for­ward. An un­ex­pected fist­fight with a club bouncer in Por­tu­gal this year, well-doc­u­mented on mu­sic blogs com­plete with bloody pho­tos of the in­ci­dent, felt omi­nously apro­pos.

“Twenty-eight is a heavy year,” Randall said. “You fi­nally have to deal with your­self, and any of your … has caught up with you. You had an idea of your­self as a teenager — but now what are you?”

Spunt agreed, al­lud­ing to a slink­ing per­sonal dis­tress and para­noia that shows up in song ti­tles such as “Life Prowler,” “Skinned” and “De­ple­tion.” Med­i­cal trau­mas and hopes for sanc­tu­ary are big lyrical con­ceits — the cho­rus of “Glit­ter” is both a warn­ing and a plea for com­fort. “Ev­ery­body’s out to get you again, but I want you back un­der­neath my skin,” Spunt begs, and the line feels both evilly ma­nip­u­la­tive and gen­uinely pained. On al­bum opener “Life Prowler,” maybe No Age’s loveli­est pro­duc­tion to date, there’s a mantra that could be bleakly ironic or desperately hope­ful — “I like my life, I like my life, I like my life.”

A sore spot

“Play­ing these songs is un­com­fort­able,” Randall said. “There’s a real sense me­mory to them that puts me back into the time we were writ­ing, and they weren’t sunny places. It’s a strange ef­fect, and that wasn’t al­ways the case in the past.”

Afew days af­ter the video shoot in No Age’s West­lake re­hearsal space, just be­fore be­gin­ning the tour with Pave­ment, the band ar­ranged its set while he­li­copters cir­cled above, hold­ing off pro­test­ers over a re­cent po­lice shoot­ing in the neigh­bor­hood. The band had the songs down, but still had to work out the most dif­fi­cult pieces of the live set — the tran­si­tions.

As one bru­tal, propul­sive sin­gle ended, Randall trig­gered ef­fects on his pedal board and played high, lonely fig­ures on gui­tar while Spunt rushed his cym­bals and the band’s tour­ing third mem­ber, Wil­liam Men­chaca, manipulated spi­rals of static and elec­tronic sam­ples. Then, me­thod­i­cally, Randall in­tro­duced the theme to No Age’s biggest sin­gle so far, “Eraser,” from “Nouns.”

Nail­ing the pas­sage took a dozen takes but the band even­tu­ally found a lan­guid, swelling pace it was happy with. No Age had fin­ished thetran­si­tion, and locked up the space to the whir of LAPD pro­pel­ler blades over­head. Smell — split be­tween the dis­ci­plined chug of ’80s punk and ethe­real, word­less drone suites. Yet the band un­ex­pect­edly be­came the pop­u­lar face of a move­ment in ex­per­i­men­tal L.A. rock mu­sic.

“They were the first band among our friends who re­ally went for it and gave us con­fi­dence to do big­ger things,” said Juan Ve­lazquez of Abe Vigoda, which just re­leased its new al­bum “Crush” on Spunt’s la­bel Post Present Medium. “They got a lot of at­ten­tion and they re­ally brought it back to the scene of punk bands around the Smell. But I like that Dean still lives down the street and he’s so loyal to his friends.”


Glenn Koenig

Randy Randall, left, and Dean Spunt found a dif­fer­ent voice in a fraught cou­ple of years.


Glenn Koenig

“I know it’s not an easy lis­ten,” says Dean Spunt, left, of the new No Age al­bum he made with co­hort Randy Randall.

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