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No Age - Nouns

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Artist: No Age

Album: Nouns

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: May. 1, 2008

Song length has a funny politics. The three-minute pop standard is supposedly a relic of LP limitations in the early years of the American music industry, specifically the capacity of a 78-speed record, which then (goes the narrative) carried smoothly over to radio, cassette and CD formats. Transgressing by going over the normal time limit nowadays risks charges of pretension or hedonism, especially if the listener is bored, whereas going under may be marked as anti-authoritarian or – in an ironically deeply idiomatic way – unidiomatic as with, say, Guided by Voices.

Our internets ought rightly to have obliterated this staid convention of the format age, but they certainly haven't yet. Listen to this muxtape, for instance. And yet the politics of song-time may be shifting anyway, even as normative time holds.

No Age's songs consistently clock in under 2 minutes and 30 seconds, with the exception of one or two epic 3:20 jams. Nouns as a whole is about 30 minutes, which used to be a longish EP, back when that distinction was necessary. But this is no punk record, in aesthetic or ideology, nor situated auterishly off the grid of genre. The operative musical modes are of earnestness and mutual support at the level of the scene - friend rock.

We began with length simply because it's so normalized, but the same issues can be traced through chops. No Age are a sloppy band, most evidently on the drums. The typical structure is a brief two-chord deal with one melody, tons of fuzz, and maybe a chorus. The songs are basically sonic arts 'n' crafts projects, unevenly glued together and likely designed on the fly. Yet, where sloppiness so often indexes a disdain for training or raises some other middle finger, No Age could hardly be friendlier. Their singing is audible and lacking irony, intentional or otherwise, and they openly, actively, like their fans. This is basically art rock for art scenes that are not on the verge of imploding.

To its credit, the band breaks with pop conventions in ways that also break with (by now) equally conventional pop transgressions. It simply doesn't map well onto the political landscape of the kind of music that makes persistent creative reference to sludgy early-’90s indie rock and dreamy neo-psych. Though generally safe and un-"sexy," Nouns is the sort of album around which healthy musical communities could grow, and that seems to be the point.

By Ben Tausig

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