Steve Wilson. On music.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thus Continues the Top 25 for 2010 Countdown! (with No. 16)

Welcome to the top 25 for 2010 Countdown! Each day we'll countdown, today we continue with number 16, culminating with our (okay, my) numero uno album of the year. When they're handy I'll borrow my earlier reviews from the KC Free Press, as I have in this case. 

I welcome all comments, criticisms, questions and dialog in general.

25. Jon Langford - Old Devils (Bloodshot)
24. Vaselines - Sex with an X (Sub Pop)
23. Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do (ATO)
22. Magnetic Fields - Realism (Nonesuch)
21. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (Sub Pop)
20. Peter Case - Wig! (Yep Roc)
19. Bettye Lavette - Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti-Epitaph) 
18. Super Wild Horses - Fifteen (Hovac) 
17. Parting Gifts - Strychnine Dandelion (In the Red) 
16. No Age - Everything In Between (Sub Pop)
“Noise is the new silence to No Age’s generation of indie-punk"

No Age is a pure product of indie-rock culture, and part of a generation raised on noise. Sonic Youth may as well be the Beatles to a generation brought up to fear silence. But on their third and best record yet, Everything In Between, No Age have discovered dynamics. It’s not the loud-soft dichotomization of the Nirvana era, but a dynamic based on the epic swell of obligatory sonic overload, rising and falling with each song’s emotional nuances. Not space exactly, but an approximation.

It is a mammoth sound that guitarist Randy Randall and drummer Dean Spunt make. But it’s not without it’s light and shade, its drama and intimacy. “Life Prowler” is Joy Division meets Sonic Youth (w/touches of Suicide), Spunt repeating, “I don’t have time.” Randall’s Frippertronic guitar tempest and Spunt’s cheerleader stomp drumming propel “Glitter,” Spunt claiming “I don’t fear God, I don’t fear anything,” then pleading “I want you back underneath my skin,” as if the lack of love could stir fear that God can’t. “Fever Dreaming” is close to straight up Stooges/Ramones punk roar. “Depletion” is punk rebellion turned into style, the band blasting away like a distortion saturated version of the Vibrators.

No Age intersperses instrumental segues like “Katerpillar” and “Positive Amputation” into Everything In Between’s program like palate cleansers, lbreakdowns with roots in the sonics of Bowie-Eno material like “Warszawa.”

Part of No Age’s balancing act is to alternate the under mixed vocals, like the Dave Vanian meets Thurston Moore vocal persona of “Valley Hump Crash,” with more out front pop mixes like “Sorts,” the latter which starts out a trashed out La’s and evolves into a snotty pop snarl that reminds of bands like the Original Sins. “Shed and Transcend” has elements of both approaches, sounding like pop-punk under an avalanche of Randall’s guitar noise. “Chem Trails,” on the other hand, is a flat out catchy tune – all “Band on the Run” trills and “Pretty in Pink” chord changes.

No Age’s basic vision is of the alienated individual struggling in a stifling culture, it’s there in Spunt’s direct lyrics, and sometimes represented by the transcendent, overwhelming noises that Randall coaxes from his guitars. The photography of Zen Sekizawa, which pays homage to Robert Mapplethorpe’s evocation of aesthetic rebellion for Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia, and the constructivist/Factory Records graphic sensibilities of Brian Roettinger’s packaging are fine translations of No Age’s sensibility into visual language.

With Everything In Between No Age have become better songwriters and more versatile, dynamic arrangers. With just a touch of roll off on the distortion they aren’t too damned far from the Eighties angst-pop of Echo and the Bunnymen or the Psychedelic Furs. It will be fun to see where their development takes them.

Reverberating: 8.2 (original), upgraded to 8.8