Since their breakout moment on 2008’s masterful Nouns, California duo No Age have held the curious distinction of being the most accessible experimental rock act around. Bridging the gap between anthemic punk songcraft and a devotional exploration of ambient noise has been their speciality, but on An Object, their third studio album proper, they’ve taken a lunging turn into stranger territory.
The record immediately set its sights high, kicking off with its best material. Between the ascendant ‘No Ground’, the fuzzed balladry of ‘I Won’t Be Your Generator’ and the forceful riffage of ‘C’mon Stimmung’, it’d be easy to say that we’re hearing them at the top of their game. It’s only then that it goes off-road. The remainder of the album’s half hour is dominated by tracks all with something badly lacking. ‘Lock Box’ and ‘Circling With Dizzy’ showcase their mosh-pit friendly tendencies well, but lack a classic No Age hook (Think of ‘Eraser’ or ‘Fever Dreaming’) to really make them stick. ‘An Impression’ and ‘Running From A-Go-Go’ are constructed with remarkable precision and inventiveness, but plod along without ever arriving anywhere compelling.
The usual success the duo have reconciling the competing desires for purism and boundary-pushing is absent here, and instead they’ve made a much more difficult, conflicted record. On the surface it’s often dull, with skeletal melodies or a repelling lethargy previously unknown to them, but in the depths it often reveals a different side to itself, one concerned with thoughtful, minimal constructions of sound. Alas, for every moment where a patient listen yields depth and nuance, there’s one where it gives only frustration and longing for their prior work.