Snares Like a Haircut is reinvigorating in the best ways.
No Age’s career initially seemed to follow a traditional path as off-kilter noise merchants whose work started off strange but eventually became more and more streamlined. By 2010 and Everything in Between, it had proven surprisingly adept at crafting loud, lo-fi pop. It followed with An Object, which took everything the band had done to that point and threw it into a wood chipper. After you’ve ripped it all up, how do you start again? If you’re No Age, you end up doing a soft reboot. At its best, No Age was a near-perfect melding of adventurousness and accessibility, and its latest album, Snares Like a Haircut is the most consistent melding of the two extremes since the band first caught attention with Weirdo Rippers.
The four-year gap between records seems to have reinvigorated the group, and the new album is brimming with energy. Yet there’s more of a method to the madness this time around. There are formed, finished songs where once was a defiant formlessness. Freed from external pressure to sound a certain way and from internal pressure to confound expectation, No Age sounds happy to just sound like No Age again.
As if to signal that the aggression of An Object is truly done and dusted, Snares opens with the one-two punch of “Cruise Control” and “Stuck in the Changer,” both examples of the sort of tight, shoegaze-tinged pop that used to send kids into a frenzy in the late ‘00s. Both are performed with a level of confidence that suggests that this is a return to what works as opposed to a retreat to familiar surroundings. The rest of the album continues as No Age albums tend to do, with a few snippets of guitar noise breaking up the punchier songs. Sometimes, it follows the familiar, ambient trail they cut years ago, as on the title cut, while other pieces offer an interpretation of styles that haven’t been explored in a long time, such as the harsh-yet-dreamy “Third Grade Rave.”
The real change comes in Dean Spunt’s lyrics. When we last left him, Spunt was defiant and confrontational, a far cry from the unrestrained bliss of the band’s earliest work. Here, Spunt is more ruminative; he’s not exactly as enthusiastic as he used to be, but there’s more room for positivity than there was on An Object. “Send Me” balances regret (“There’s so much that I wish I had done”) with a desire to move on to whatever comes next (“Send me/ Where should I go”). It’s mature moments like these that elevate Snares above pure rehash.
Perhaps the time away from the studio was just the sort of thing that No Age needed. Its appeal lies in its conviction, one that they started to question before taking an extended break. Snares Like a Haircut is reinvigorating in the best ways, and its finest moments get to the heart of what made No Age such an exciting band in the first place. Not too bad for a return to the beginning.