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No Age, ‘An Object’ – Album Review

Sub Pop

No Age‘s third full-length, not counting the compilation ‘Weirdo Rippers,’ is three years in the making. That’s a long time, considering their first two LPs and ‘Weirdo Rippers’ all came out in a three-year span. In interviews, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall have talked about the difficulty of writing this album, at least until they arrived at a concept: ‘An Object.’

The band took the idea of making a record quite literally, slaving away at printing, cutting, packing, shipping and doing everything else bar actually pressing copies of the LPs and CDs.

It’s a great idea, and No Age are one of the most sincere and invested groups in the game. They live by an artistic and human code that they follow through on and are a band to believe in. They deserve the utmost respect for this crazy project, and it is quite a feat they pulled it off.

All that said, the idea behind ‘An Object’ also creates a problem. In trying to make a record that captures the base emotions of creating, they’ve put concept over the craft. Part of being an artist is challenging yourself, and No Age’s albums have all progressed in that manner. The band has developed an ever-keener ear for melody, harmony and the basic tenants of Western music, which mix so interestingly with their fierce punk aggression, ambient peacefulness and manic noise. No Age have long been about colliding worlds and seeing where the pieces land. This is all absent from ‘An Object.’

Opening with the chanted ‘No Control,’ Spunt backtracks as a vocalist, retreating from the kinds of attempts he made to sing on ‘Everything In Between.’ Worse are Randall’s guitar fills, which merely serve as canvases to display his homemade effects. It’s a messy song, and while the occasionally brilliant follow-up track, ‘I Won’t Be Your Generator,’ redeems things somewhat, ‘Defector/Ed’ again use sonics that are only interesting for the sake novelty, especially if you know how they were made. But — and here is some expert critical speak — it doesn’t sound good. It sounds like dad’s power sander is running in the next room, with the volume so muted that all we really have to focus on are Spunt’s severely limited vocal talents.

Most of the songs function the same way, with the band over-estimating what worked on the old albums. Only ‘An Impression’ and ‘Running From a Go-Go,’ which features strings, work, as Spunt’s singing ability doesn’t handcuff the songs. But for the most part, when you remove the volume and the desire to make themselves sound better than they should, you’re left with exactly what No Age are: a guitarist that doesn’t really know how to play and a singer that can’t really carry a tune.

If ‘An Object’ amounts to anything more than a good experience for the artists, it’s a reminder that music and art are more than objects, and that the labor of being an artist can be a part of it, but it shouldn’t be the heart of it. When the idea behind a record is the literal making of a record, listening to the music can feel like work, too. But we like music not for the physical properties, but for their ideas and the feelings they can stir. Hopefully, ‘An Emotion’ is coming next.

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