The suburb of Sunland-Tujunga is a long way from the downtown L.A. alley that houses The Smell, the club where the noise-punk duo No Age cut their teeth. But it’s where No Age guitarist Randy Randall went in search of a little new space.
“I tell people it’s the new Eagle Rock,” he said. “It was affordable and it’s actually really beautiful.”
Randall's physical uprooting makes sense, given all the other deconstructions going on in No Age’s universe. “An Object,” the band’s third studio full length, finds them ripping up their sound and renewing a commitment to re-imagine the structures of their music. They play a high-profile FYF Fest set this Sunday, and it could be the start of a new, creatively-testing era for the duo.
Much has been made of the fact that No Age took the premise of “An Object” really seriously – they made a point to hand-assemble, package and ship all 10,000 vinyl and CD copies of the album themselves (even though they’re signed to a label, Sub Pop, that would have happily done it for them). It’s the latest example in a long line of thought, from Walter Benjamin to Andy Warhol, about how industry informs artistry.
“I’ve never been of the mind that I’m making an album for iTunes,” Randall said. “This thing being in our hands was important.”
But as much as the band was interested in assembling “An Object” themselves, they were just as focused on disassembling their sound. Where past No Age records were built off brief, punky blasts soaked in pedalboard ambience, “An Object” is their purest noise record yet.
The tracks feel less like traditional songs and more like ideas presented as-is. “An Impression” uses weird clanks and blips in lieu of Dean Spunt’s drumming; “Running From A Go-Go” takes the amber glow of Phil Spector and scuffs it up with raw sound experiments and a sad, deadpan delivery. They upended many of their recording techniques, preferring contact microphones and treated speakers to get at one-of-a-kind sounds built by hand.
“Some of this is going to be impossible to play live,” Randall said. “But we decided to just write what we feel and then cannibalize it later.”
Fans used to thoughtful moshing at No Age warehouse shows will find “An Object” a hard record to move around to (except for the howler “C’mon, Stimmung”). Sometimes, there’s a sense that the songwriting took a backseat to the high concepts on the album.
But it’s a rare and hard thing for a band to so thoroughly challenge the premises it’s built on, especially after No Age vaulted from skate-rat warehouse shows to a full spread in the New Yorker, scoring for the high-fashion line Rodarte and a reputation forged at the vanguard of L.A. music and art scenes. “An Object” is the precise opposite of the stereotypical mid-career pop record that experimental bands are prone to delivering. But it does imagine a whole new space for No Age to make music in.
“We wanted to challenge what a song can be,” Randall said. “We wanted to make it more of a pure feeling.”