3.5.08

No Age - Nouns

This will hopefully find it's way into Beat but of course you never know ... and reading over the review it struck me that it seemed more at home in the knotty intellectual domain that is (con)temporary, so here you go!

No Age - Nouns
(Sub Pop / Stomp)

A reactionary evaluation of the debut proper from No Age might go like this: so they're signed to Sub Pop (after releasing a string of totally indie vinyls that were collected into Weirdo Ripper), therefore they had lots of cash to make Nouns, so how come it sounds like shit, like they just chucked the tape recorder in the middle of the room and pressed play? I want to hear the KILLER tracks underneath all this crap! Well sure, No Age do pile things on, it's rough, distorted and their tracks are buried under a certain mulch, but this itself is a subtle reconfiguration of the traditional lo-fi aesthetic that one might initially angrily attribute to Nouns. Because the very thing is, Nouns undoes the ideology of lo-fi the says it can only emerge from tape recorders and the dole, just at the same time as they trash the notion that studio production itself must aim for a kind of perfect sound. It's clear from a little closer listening that No Age truly didn't just set up the mic in the middle of the room and then bash around it, but that its lo-fi grain is actually as much an addition of production - they use overdubbing, looping, resonant atmospherics and so on that take what might actually have been a fairly crisp punk track initially and cast it in some kind of mystical, elemental aura. This itself also delays the orgasmic excess that your traditional punk listener might want from his tracks, as if music were reducible to ejaculatory actions - Nouns says 'fuck that', asserting that we MUST bury things under mulch, make the ears work a little harder and recognise the duality of things - that punk itself can be ambient, and that ambient can be punk. It doesn't let you hear it kicking, even though it clearly is busting out of its seams of that grainy, tactile cloth that lays over it. This sound is punk as an environmental force, not one that works to charge you in force and politics but that works through bodies and envelopes of noise until it reaches something like a scuzzy nirvana. As such, Nouns ceaselessly seems to extend beyond itself, reaching past its initial hearing to emanate beyond and take primal flight - it makes sense that this band have played at the foot of canyons and gorges in their American homeland.

Their mixture of studio production and what you might call field recording (live music or otherwise) also flies in the face of what might be a positive evaluation of lo-fi as some kind of pure sphere of 'press record and play' musical creativity that lends recordings a life-giving and totally authentic force (case in point: Springsteen's Nebraska, “OMG he actually sat at his kitchen table to record this and that’s exactly what we’re hearing!”). No Age more subtly understand lo-fi itself as a form of engineering or trickery, not the beginning and end of production but one means among others to arrive at a particular recorded sound. This particular recording also smashes the two-piece mentality, which amazingly is what No Age are - against that whole ‘what you play live should be what we hear on album’ bullshit, the endless layering and marks of far more than just four hands that pervade this sound force you to hold this album as its own material entity. We're not evaluating what they should sound like here (which the reactionary review might ask for), this isn't sheet music and it isn't a gig. It's Nouns, and it’s the sign of something great happening in music when it can steer a smooth course through knotty, ambient complexity and fuzzy, unbridled fun.

10 riffs:

James said...

Right.

Lo-Fi is such a delicate topic though. I mean you've got bands across the spectrum who've made the style of recording their own whether its because of finance or production styles.

I can see similarities in your argument connecting No Age to Neutral Milk Hotel, with their deliberately compressed recordings with all the warm, natural fuzz and the crashing, caustic, rough-edged vocals and guitar mimicking the lyrical content. On another record that would have been production suicide but for Aeroplane? Obviously the constructed lo-fi attributes contributed immensly to the record.

Except I can't draw that across to Nouns. I'm hesitant to make any final declaration because I'm not fully immersed in the album by any stretch but on first impressions I didn't see the same desperate need for the constructed lo-fi production. Sure it's intellectually awesome and the concept of punk being somehow a stronger genre with more weight to it than simply loud is interesting but ultimately as mentioned previously (Thx AS), it's a bunch of sweet tunes hidden in an orgy of disastrous production.

The longing, desperation and violence of Aeroplane needs that compressed production to really hit home just as the myth of GBV is sustained by the tape-deck, we're all just teachers and regular dudes here recording process which they're famous for. Maybe the mythology of No Age (which is admittedly still growing) will prove this production decision correct. At the moment, I can't justify it.

I'm not a purist who wants awesome production, poverty stricken tape deck bands or 'live' recordings because god forbid we have overdubs, but what i think is important is a clear reason/agenda/meaning for the band, some sort of hook for the listener to go 'shitdamn, i know why they sound like this, they just have too!' For No Age, you've found that reason whereas I haven't. I just hear great songs, hype and a tape deck inexplicably in the middle of the room.

Lawson said...

Definitely agree with the Neutral Milk connection, another band that understand lo-fi as an aesthetic practice. Clearly people have had over a decade to parse out the 'significance' or what have you of this technique on Aeroplane, and I myself have only started too on Nouns, and further I'm very hesitant to offer up any kind of prescription of meaning further than what I've already done, but as one asks...

Implicit in the review was this 'punk as an environmental force' thing, a way of reconstructing punk so that it might be thought of as coming not from urban, middle-class male frustration and maybe as a more grounded, earthen resonance, an amplification of nature's radness. This sounds really quite wanky I know, but this would probz be supported by No Age, dudes have actually played at the foot of canyons and such. And if you scope the photo-booklet that comes along with the songs (though I'm not sure if you have, you know that whole mp3 thing...) you see a whole bunch of grainy nature shots along with ones of empty band rooms and the house they probably live in. There's something in this music, "that seems to extend beyond itself, reaching past its initial hearing to emanate beyond and take primal flight" - this is like a politics of distortion, if you will. It's like an affective membrane that connects the recorded sound to the world from which it inevitably came, realising that artifice and nature are intricately bound together. In this sense, I see a certain unity between Nouns and Sigur Ros.

That is No Age's reason/meaning/agenda if you will, though I'm not sure everyone will cotton onto it, inasmuch as they are still very much within a mindset that expects 'great songs' to somehow be buried underneath, like every fucking piece of music had an archetype just waiting to pop out at the perfect recording or live performance. That too, I believe, is a bullshit musicological ideology, and as I pretty much said in the review, No Age make certain that songs are themselves entities, things (Nouns) - you have to evaluate what hits your ears, not what it 'should' be.

I'm thoroughly done now.

James said...

I've seen the cover for No Age and I was amazed by it, in actual fact it seemed to stand in stark contrast to the music itself - an over produced, glittering, sensuous experience as opposed to the negating, challenging listening experience found within.

As you've clearly pointed out, this whole discussion of aesthetics, nature, distortion and punk (something which I'd argue is incredibly tied to nature. The best punk music sounds like an urban natural disaster) is intrinsically tied to No Age's philosophy and that these oppositional forms whether it's in the music itself or the presentation of the CD can bring nature and urbanity together in a artistic experience. I must admit your second explanation helped me get the vibe more than the review.

I can see your point of analysis, however that didn't jump out at me and until you described it my listening wasn't searching for those same concepts. I guess I could easily see GBV and NMH's reasons for their production and allowed me to access the albums immediately. The lo-fi production wasn't a limit on the experience but an enhancement

But it could be anything. No Age could be a slow burner, it could be awesome and I might not totally get it or they might just not be able to effectively push forth their artistic vision.

But I guess overall, I'm just wary of hype. I don't want to demand better recording of No Age so I can y'know, hear the songs, they've made this artistic choice for a reason but as we've both said, it's a choice which needs to be evaluated over years. It's a matter of mythology and effective narrative. In ten years time we'll know the answer.

James said...

Wait. Clarification about getting music now and in ten years.

I don't totally get No age now as opposed to GBV and NMH. This is slightly bad, it means that lo-fi isn't an enhancement to me but a barrier to listening.

However, I had a narrative and mythology which was already established with GBV and NMH. I wasn't listening to these album's off the bat but with a wealth of criticism and analysis behind me. Even though I hadn't read all this, I knew these albums were special (maybe that's no different to the hype around No Age now but I think it kinda is).

I guess I'm giving No Age the benefit to develop a narrative, maybe that's what they need.

Does this make sense? Haha Whatevz.

po-face killjoy said...

can i get either of you two a soy latte?

Lawson said...

Thanks for the offer po-face killjoy, but soy is in fact an article of oppression in many third world crop producing countries and there is documented evidence many soy companies are in fact evil, therefore totally the man and not lo-fi or respectful of nature in any way - so I think I'll have to pass!

James said...

Totally Lawson. I mean I'd just like to state that my macbook, my vegan shoes and my crumpler bag are both soy free. You know if we can't take down the giant corporations, who will?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review, Lawson.

On a first listen, I don't like the album quite as much as the review, but is that such a bad thing?

Anonymous said...

...quite as much as I like the review, that is.

Lawson said...

hey anon; hmmmm - i'm not sure, i'm narcisstically chuffed you like the review, but i was hoping it might get some to reconsider the album... nevermind!