I have a lot of music. Got stacks and stacks of vinyl, rows and rows of LPs, 12-inches and 7-inches, both in my home and in storage. Boxes of CDs are crammed under my bed and in my closets, awaiting the day when I’ll have space enough to display them or time enough to import them. They’re piled high in front of my desk, and my bins are overflowing with FedEx and UPS rush jobs, each another CD demanding my attention, offering some sort of promise. Don’t even ask me about my in-box. Every day a dozen MP3s, another dozen Zip files drop from the heavens (or, depending on my mood, slither up from hell). My eMusic account affords me 90 downloads a month, which I store on a jumbo external hard drive. I go to the stores (at least what remains of them) twice a week and buy more CDs to fill in any gaps. Family bookstore on Fairfax has a nice little cassette section, and you can only get some of the Deathbomb Arc stuff on tape, so I go. In all this pile of music, nestled in one or another square or cubic inch, ever expanding, perhaps, is the record that will change my life. Maybe it’s there somewhere, like a babe in womb, latent, folded, compact, sleeping.
Photo by Ed Templeton
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
And when it finally arrives, that record will adjust what in my head needs to be adjusted. Will scratch the itch I didn’t even know I had. Will make the others seem obsolete, or at least like abject failures. Will be a sort of second coming. I await in the hope that when it arrives, it will thrill me in ways I’ve never been thrilled.
Nouns is the new record by L.A. band No Age (their first real full-length release, following last year’s singles collection, Weirdo Rippers), and it’s the best punk album of the 21st century, an eraser that has single-handedly eliminated any desire I currently have to listen to anything else. It taps the place where primal expression collides with noise, harmony and drop-dead rhythm, where anger converges with melody to express what seems so inexpressible. Nouns is hard, it’s textured, it draws from both the frantic punkers and the emergent noisemongers who have created the amazing Smell scene downtown. It sounds like a punk-rock record. It sounds like a pop record. It sounds like a noise record.
Short bursts of fury, little buds of noise — that’s what Nouns is made of. Twelve songs in 30:36, the longest being the epic 3:27 wash of guitar, “Keechie,” the shortest being the opening statement of purpose, “Miner,” which at 1:51 suggests both My Bloody Valentine’s “Sueisfine” and brutalist British hardcore band Discharge. The hook — such as it is — arrives at 1:13, and isn’t a hook so much as a five-second cutaway to some sort of collapse, which vanishes as quickly as it arrives but transforms the song. “Ripped Knees” contains an opening drumbeat and guitar riff for the ages, a big, defiant bounce that’s anchored by a perfectly placed tambourine and Dean Spunt’s vivid opening line: “I see rivers in my sleep/They’re filled with blood.”
Nouns is 2008’s Wild Gift, something both of its time and drawn from the well; it’s the Minutemen’s The Punch Line, it’s Naked Raygun's Throb Throb tossed with Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, it’s My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless crossed with Black Flag’s Damaged, generated by guitarist Randy Randall and singing drummer Spunt. It’s a great punk-rock record at a time when I really didn’t think great punk was possible. Simplicity, coupled with distortion boxes, panic and energy, equals Nouns.
The critic Greil Marcus once commented on K Records’ claim that its home of Olympia, Washington, was “the birthplace of rock & roll.” On the surface, Marcus wrote — and I’m paraphrasing — a ridiculous claim. But the beauty of rock & roll, he said, is its ability to reinvent itself over and over again in regions all across the world. Anyplace can be the birthplace of rock & roll at any time. One year it’s Omaha, Nebraska, the next year it’s Brooklyn, the next year it’s Athens, Georgia, or Manchester, or Tokyo.
The music keeps coming, and it’s impossible to keep up. Like the “unseen buds” of Walt Whitman’s wondrous poem of the same name (from which I’ve swiped a few key lines, sprinkling them throughout the above), it flows: “Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well,” Whitman wrote, “under the snow and ice, under the darkness, in every square or cubic inch.” Music’s the same way. It keeps coming; the songs, the buds, the babies, all “urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless/And waiting ever more, forever more behind.”
Every so often one of these little creations bursts forth, for whatever reason, a little bit prettier or more touched, or with more spirit or power or whatever you want to call it. In 2008, Los Angeles is once again the birthplace of rock & roll. Want proof? Check out Nouns.
NO AGE | Nouns | Sub Pop
More on No Age: Jonah Flicker profiles the band, August 2007 Timothy Norris' live photos of No Age and Liars at the El Rey, February 2008Randall Roberts on last year's No Age compilation, Weirdo Rippers