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No Age - Goons Be Gone Music Album Reviews

Fifteen years into their career, the duo are still finding ways to make discord feel utopian.

No Age is less a rock band than a lenticular 3-D image of one—your perception of them is liable to shift depending on your vantage point. From one angle, singer-drummer Dean Allen Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall are a punk duo capable of making the noise of a band five times their size; from another, they’re meticulous sound designers, applying just as much attention to subliminal details as the actual songs blaring over them. But on their last couple of records, the perspective shifts have been whiplash-inducing: where 2013’s An Object stripped out their engine to play around with the scrap parts, 2018’s Snares Like a Haircut found them fully reinvigorated and ready to rejoin the circle pit.
With Goons Be Gone, they opt to let the pendulum gently sway between these two poles. Now 15 years into their career, No Age have reached the point where they could easily settle into a dad-punk comfort zone, a fate suggested by the opening “Sandalwood,” which sounds like Thurston Moore covering the Velvets covering “Gloria.” Their lifelong Hüsker Dü worship continues, but “Feeler” pivots away from their buddy Bob Mould’s gale-force aggression to embrace the more melodic graces of the Grant Hart songbook. Overall, they’re still too restless to settle into familiar archetypes—when, on the latter song, Spunt kindly invites us to “board onto the rhythm of my astroplane, and find out where I’ve been,” the duo make good on that cosmic promise by unleashing an ominous textural whoosh where most bands would just drop the guitar solo.

In moments like these, Goons Be Gone feels like two wildly different albums dubbed atop each another, where late-’80s-style indie-rock songs are perpetually fending off strange ambient undercurrents that threaten to consume them. The album’s highlights revel in that dichotomy: the frantic “War Dance” tries to outrun its own ray-gun squiggles as if dodging battlefield bullets, while the brisk “Turned to String”—which exhibits the sort of post-hardcore Tom Pettyisms that The Men mastered circa New Moon—feels liable to launch itself from the heartland and into space at any moment. And those two tracks are linked by the rapturous “Toes in the Water,” a tremolo-soaked lo-fi instrumental that gradually builds into a cyclone of distortion, like a Glenn Branca noise symphony trapped in a suburban garage.

Spunt’s lyrics tend to deal in cryptic directives and enigmatic romanticism—on the twangy dream-pop of “Smoothie,” he addresses the subject of his affection as “my tambourine.” But when you consider Goons Be Gone’s title, alongside lines like “I’m astonished by your ignorance today,” a subterranean theme emerges: Spunt and Randall are two family men trying to ward off the bad vibes as their country descends into chaos.

But that tension dissipates when No Age let their experimental impulses completely take over: “Working Stiff Takes a Break” strands a Minutemen-style rant inside a shapeless pawn-shop synth doodle, while the sputtering “A Sigh Clicks” sounds like the duo found a cool, siren-like sound effect to base a song around, but failed to come up with one. But maybe these are the sort of whiteboard exercises that are necessary to arrive at a charming oddity like “Head Sport Full Face,” whose locomotive riff and melodic guitar hook could almost pass for Room on Fire-era Strokes, but whose detuned-radio frequencies and convulsive rhythm honor No Age’s art-damaged pedigree. Their sound may be familiar by now, and their days as the poster children of L.A. DIY are more than a decade in the rearview. But at their most fearless, No Age can still make discord feel sound utopian.

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