Every review about L.A. noise-rockers No Age celebrates the duo’s devotion to their local scene: immortalizing local club the Smell in their album art, performing regularly at punk-rock brunch parties (serving vegan pancakes, natch), making their own t-shirts, buddying up to fellow L.A. faves Mika Miko, and so on. In a day and age where you might be more likely to get suggestions from an Amazon.com bot than from a real-live record store clerk, it’s refreshing as hell to hear about a band that’s actually from a scene at all. It was all but inevitable that, for coverage of No Age’s impressive debut, Weirdo Rippers, Sasha Frere-Jones would make a pilgrimage to the Smell and numerous bloggers would pretend that they’d actually heard the band’s earlier incarnation, the Wives. Mythologizing about how No Age (guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt, respectively) make their own t-shirts is one thing, but articles about the band’s sound has been surprisingly tepid—mostly hum-drum comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain.
The only trait that No Age shares with those two bands is volume, and besides, if the similarly hyped-out-the-ass A Place to Bury Strangers has taught us anything, it’s not worth getting your hopes up for another Loveless anytime soon—though there might be another Isn’t Anything. Nouns, however, isn’t it. The album is a fine, fun piece of work: 30 minutes of roaring guitars, White Stripes-style drum pounding, and barely audible, sneered vocals (critics also link the group to Black Flag, though Screeching Weasel would be more apt). The songs rarely pass the three-minute mark or contain bridges, and both the best and weakest tracks sound like Randall and Spunt are expanding on the germ of a musical idea rather than a completed, accomplished composition. Opening track “Miner,” for instance, immediately entrances with its waves of distortion and its sweetly mumbled lyrics, and the fact that the noise never really builds to anything—like, say, an MBV song would—is okay since “Miner” is over and done with before you get restless.
A few songs take a stab at more complex song structures, such as the Sebadoh-but-noisier “Cappo” and the Superchunk-but-grouchier “Sleeper Hold,” but No Age sounds much more at home when they’re riffing on a single guitar effect or chord sequence, as they do on a pair of instrumental tracks, “Keechie” and “Impossible Bouquet.” Which is the main problem with Nouns. This off-the-cuff, D.I.Y.-to-the-max mentality doesn’t lead to as many weak songs as you’d expect, but it makes for very few particularly memorable ones—and even fewer loveable ones. Flipping through the 60-plus pages of collages, video stills, and concert photos in the album’s gorgeous packaging confirms what all the band’s press implies: that there’s more to No Age than their recordings. The band’s live performances, politics, and loyalty to their fanbase are to be admired, but Nouns will leave you wanting more.