Album Review: No Age – People Helping People

By Roman Salomone, Contributor 
[Drag City Inc.; 2022]
Rating: 4/10             

Key tracks: “Rush to the Pond”, “Slow Motion Shadow”, “Heavenly”

No Age has been one of modern rock’s most interesting acts of the past two decades. Vocalist and drummer Dean Sprunt and guitarist Randy Randall started the outfit in 2005, fusing elements of noise rock, art punk, and lo-fi bedroom rock to create their signature sound. 2007’s Weirdo Rippers compilation and their Sub Pop debut through 2008’s Nouns saw the band gain the attention like other similarly noisy, mid-to-late 2000s peers like the Black Lips, Deerhunter, Thee Oh Sees, or Jay Reatard did. Throughout the previous decade, Sprunt and Randall consistently released music, with records like 2010’s Everything in Between and 2018’s Snares Like a Haircut seeing fair shares of critical acclaim.

Read more: Album Review: Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B

People Helping People is the duo’s sixth studio album and follows 2020’s Goons Be Gone. This new album finds the duo’s first time not using an outside producer, as the recording of the album mostly took place in Randall’s garage during the initial Covid-pandemic lockdown. 

Like previous No Age albums, the songs and their structures are anything but complex. However, People Helping People sounds way more undeveloped than most of the duo’s most stripped back material, so much so that most of this album sounds borderline unfinished. Out of 13 tracks, six of them are brief instrumentals, with the quality gap between most of them being pretty all over the place. But the lack of song structure is not the biggest kneecap of the album. Throughout People Helping People, Sprunt is doing his best impression of a young Iggy Pop waking up on a Saturday morning after being insanely hungover, and forced to record vocals for an album he can’t hear the backing track to. Dean’s new take on his intentionally sloppy and amateurish delivery is not a smart one. This shift towards being constantly monotone and putting in as little passion as possible leaves most of his performances sounding completely phoned in. 

The first half of this album is often meandering and aimless. Whether it’s the attempts at making the most bland version of a Logos-era Atlas Sound ambient piece on intro track “You’re Cooked” or the monotonous “Compact Flashes”, it’s a complete mess from start to end. The transitional songs on the front end like “Interdependence” and “Fruit Bat Blunder” are essentially filler, barely offering anything to compliment the surrounding tracks.

Outside of the prior mentions of the “Iggy-vocal-style,” Dean and Randy are no strangers to wearing their influences on their sleeves, and People Helping People is no exception. The lead melodies, squishy beat, and trebly, jangly guitars on “Plastic (You Want It)” are very reminiscent of some of Jay Reatard’s forays into kiwi-pop on his last album, Watch Me Fall. The instrumental here is quite playful and has a particular bounciness to it. Unfortunately, Sprunt’s lazy moans and unnecessarily drawing-out his words don’t enforce any of the infectious energy that a guy like Jay could capture.

“Rush to the Pond” is the first track on the album that not only has a complete structure, but actually is one of the bigger highlights of the record. The shallow acoustic guitars are complimented against a distant drum beat and some very subtle, fuzzed out guitars that act as a pad for Dean to croon pretty much unintelligibly over. The following “Slow Motion Shadow” is also another high point for the album. The recording on this track is way more lo-fi than the rest of the material here and is carried by great guitar work that definitely worships The Cleaner From Venus, as well as some killer drum fills. Dean’s vocals on this track sound very inspired by Thurston Moore, but ultimately end up being more fitting for the song, and easily is the most compelling vocal performance here. Like any good No Age song, the both of these tracks slowly progress into more volume, layered guitars, intensity, and a trademark wall of distortion, something the first half of the album almost lacks completely.

“Heavenly” is easily the standout of the instrumental cuts, sounding like something Slowdive would have used for a passage or an outro on Pygmalion. The bittersweet and slightly-grand guitar melody backed by some hall reverb-soaked synths showcases the band’s shoegaze leanings from many of the instrumentals from Nouns, in particular the track “Impossible Banquet”.

Overall, People Helping Peoples is a bit of a mess, and not in the “good way” that other No Age albums are. The first half of this album comes off very uninspired, with no grasp of what direction it wants to go in. The second half, on the other hand, might not be that much more inspired than the first, but it does come in with more quality melodies, production choices, and focus. Still, the duos’ efforts at toying with different production styles and sounds is admirable, and hopefully foreshadows a new, more realized direction on their next release.

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