In 2007, people were really excited about that one Feist album. The National, M.I.A. and Justice were also among the most widely acclaimed indie artists that year, so when drum-guitar duo No Age reared its head out from a cloud of tape hiss and nails-on-a-chalkboard dissonance, its aggressively lo-fi style and DIY ethos were big enough novelties to draw attention far beyond the local punk scene in L.A., not to mention a lengthy profile in The New Yorker. A lot has changed in three years.
Almost overnight, indie rock became overrun with bands opting for a back-to-basics approach, choosing purposefully shoddy production and wearing the "DIY" badge like something they bought at American Apparel. But for No Age, the DIY distinction has always come thanks to actual do-it-yourself authenticity: guitarist Randy Randall even broke ground, literally, on the bathrooms at The Smell, the all-age venue that is L.A.’s storied art-punk epicenter. By the time they recorded Nouns in ’08, they found themselves signed to Sub Pop, and the novelty of their approach was knocked down a notch, forcing them to toss a few hugely infectious hooks and melodies into the equation. Everything in Between picks up here, showcasing a slightly cleaner sounding, more grown-up band that schools its horde of followers—Wavves, Beach Fossils, Vivian Girls, Psychedelic Horseshit, all of them—in how to mature gracefully.
What No Age loves to do is make a lot of noise. Critics have used such labels as art-punk, noise-pop and experimental-rock to describe their sound, but none of those descriptors are quite right for the hyperkinetic, peculiar brand of noise. Nevermind that they’re a two-person project, their music is dense and they treat noise as a third instrument, as essential to the album as the drum kit, guitars and samples. Its thickness allows for malleability. The rugged, raw energy on "Fever Dreaming" is interspersed with what sounds like two metal pinwheels sending up sparks, paralleling the apocalyptic pandemonium of Sleigh Bells. Meanwhile, harsh gurgles flare up every two seconds on "Sorts," rendering any interpretation of drummer/singer Dean Spunt’s lyrics useless.
More so than ever before, though, they work the noise down to a simmer. Instrumental pieces "Dusted" and "Positive Amputation" are all a dreamy melt, but songs like "Glitter" and "Chem Trials" (featuring both boys on vocals for the first time) pull back, revealing lyrics about being a little banged up: "I’ve been wondering when it’s my turn to get a win" seems to be a reoccurring theme. As for hooks, "Glitter" and "Life Prowler" are immediate grabs, filling in for the stridently poppy "Teen Creeps" and "Eraser" from Nouns. The drums on "Glitter" mimic a cheerleader’s hand jive, for cryin’ out loud, proving that these guys can be loyal to a melody when they want to be. This should be a sigh of relief: As we find ourselves in the midst of a lo-fi revival with no idea of how long it will last, No Age proves with Everything in Between that growing up DIY doesn’t have to be a train wreck, and that it can sound quite good.