A key variable in No Age’s work has been the number and depth of the layers they use to separate listeners from the impetus at the center of their songs. My own bias is for the extremes. I turn it up for direct statements like “Teen Creeps” (from Nouns) and “Fever Dreaming” (from Everything In Between), but also for blurry expressions like “Semi-Sorted” (from Weirdo Rippers) and “Things I Did When When I Was Dead” (Nouns.) If you’re like me, then, you found An Object, their last proper release, strangely unsatisfying, since it spent most of its time in the middle-ground.
On Snares Like a Haircut (Drag City Records), there’s a relentless film of noise and grime over everything, but the records starts out bright and melodic, almost sunny, even. It’s more California garage-rock than bratty punk bluster. But those crisp sonic blueprints are matched with ambivalent themes. A reflection of the times? A recognition of the ambiguity of growing up? There are questions all over this record. “Send Me” is straightforward at first, with an opening refrain of “Send me, I said send me,” but unsure the rest of the way, asking, “Where should I go? Maybe across the sea, but that don’t quite feel right.”
After a brief instrumental (the title track), the second third of the record turns darker and aggressive. Thematically, it’s more pessimistic. “Tidal” is a straight-ahead rocker about inescapable bitterness. “Soft Collar Fad” is a gloriously raucous way to flip a middle finger at people who won’t mind their own business. “Popper” and “Secret Swamp” are similarly impassioned, but are full of apathetic lines like, “It’s easy not to care” and “I’ve got a lot to offer, I don’t think I should bother.” After another instrumental, the last couple of tracks offer the mid-tempo haze that An Object had in (over-)abundance, and after the determined stride of the first 10 tracks, they are an inviting and appropriate comedown.
The words on this record words don’t offer many clues to what has No Age so fired up, but they sound determined to get some stuff off their chests, remind everyone that they can tear shit up, and add a few new sounds to their catalog. This is a thrilling record, an exhausting listen, and a rousing reminder of how vital this pair of weirdos really is.