No Age: An Object
One quality you can’t always get across on multi-reviewer sites like Paste is that an album might be a disappointment in the context of a band’s own catalog, but still a highlight compared to everyone else’s. No Age is a great band; the level of quality that Dean Spunt and Randy Randall are operating at is greater than most guitar-wielders in 2013 and certainly most rock outfits that loop samples. An Object is more listenable than The Rest because the default point on the sonic grid that these guys work within is an uncommonly warm, sizzling and tuneful sweet spot. This is no guarantee than the next No Age album will be good, and from the sound of it, these guys are getting kind of tired and on the downswing. But in no way does that mean the fall from 2010’s incredible Everything in Between is an abrupt one. Think of Spoon’s Transference, which is better than you remember even if you were too sick of them by then to examine all its corners as deeply as they modestly demanded.
This band is struggling to write songs, as very few tracks on this 29-minute Sub Pop shareholder’s report have much of a melody, and only one has a singable chorus (a song called “I Won’t Be Your Generator” isn’t exactly gunning for the spotlight though). But boldly enough, they didn’t take this time to explore the instrumental possibilities of their previous album. They just forged on with the half-songs they had, and many of these open up if you give them longer than a deadline requires: “Defector/Ed” is one of the hookiest No Age songs ever, with possibly the quietest harmonized guitar in history buried beneath what impossibly sounds like the squeaking of an old metal wall pencil sharpener or some kind of rusty hamster wheel. You’ll notice it around listen 10.
But where Transference set out to prove Spoon could rock outside the confines of their obsessive-compulsive minimalism, An Object sets out to sand off dynamics entirely, without actually going soft (except on the truly beautiful “An Impression,” whose drone naturally folds in a staticky cello, or the weary “Running from A-Go-Go”). So these are muted rock songs for the most part, with riffs designed to click and hum and massage the memory—rock as ambience or avant-garde curlicue music, toying with the idea of familiarity itself by writing songs delivered with such blank affect that you barely notice they’re there, except for the positively joyful-sounding “Lock Box,” which gives off aromas of Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender.” Just because you’ll need a microscope to find these songs doesn’t mean they aren’t there, crushing the competition more quietly than ever. The only thing that could make An Object better is a guarantee these determined minimalists won’t leave us with zero next time out.