It’s been five years since Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt released a studio album as No Age, so you would think in that time there might have been an evolution that would be evident in their new release. Unfortunately, Snares Like a Haircut only makes a few small-to-medium sized steps forward in their sound. Those moments of innovation and brilliance are exciting, but they should have lasted a bit longer.
Most of the album consists of the traditional noise rock-pop listeners have come to expect, and in fact the album begins with a fairly consistent and exuberant jam in “Cruise Control” that worms its way into your head like some of the best pop songs. The same goes for tracks like “Drippy” and “Soft Collar Fad,” although the latter song as well as later album track “Secret Swamp” are a little more playful and creative with their usage of distortion and feedback effects.
Settled in-between the album’s bookends of classic No Age sound, are some really atmospheric instrumental pieces that don’t sacrifice any of the band’s signature rough sound. It begins on track four with “Send Me,” which already has a gentler beginning than the three tracks that preceded it. It eases then into a nearly shoegaze-style territory that creates a shimmering dream effect. It’s the first song on the album that seems like something new, and like the sign of musical growth in the established band. I almost wish this song didn’t have any lyrics, as they pale in comparison to the music behind them. However, the song wraps nicely with an actual build to a musical climax, which also feels novel, as most of their songs tend to operate at a high volume and intensity level from the first note.
After “Send Me,” they move seamlessly into the title track, which picks up with the best musical parts of the previous track. It’s purely instrumental, and successfully creates a soundscape around you that has a top, dreamy layer with a constant rhythm from the drums that never detracts from the primary sounds. The disparate moods – evocative and introspective versus anxious and bold – create a great tension within the track that helps maintain the jagged-edge production the band has cultivated. However, even this song, as rich and interesting as it is, doesn’t become dynamic until the last minute and it never really builds to the heights you expect it to be reaching for.
The next track, “Tidal,” eases us in briefly but then with a shriek of feedback drops us directly back into noise territory. This back-and-forth is a pattern throughout the album and by the time we reach “Secret Swamp,” the ninth track on the album, the general back and forth from invention and expansion then back to noise-pop has become just a little predictable. It’s as if The Wizard of Oz had kept switching back and forth in-between color and black-and-white, rather than deciding to commit to amazing you with color.
We do get a stand-out jam with “Popper,” which you could really jump around to. It’s got the trademark No Age relentless noise, but it also varies itself enough by increasing the intensity of the instruments in the chorus, and then moving back down a bit again during the verses – some other songs on the album are almost doing this, but don’t quite succeed. Their version of “loud-quiet-loud” music adds a nice rolling and rocking rhythm to the song that just makes it fun.
The overall bright spots on the album – largely focused in the middle and right at the end – are pretty bright but, because they are so interesting and point to a necessary and exciting evolution in a band that’s been releasing records for nearly 10 years now, they only make the relative sameness of the other tracks stand out more. Snares Like a Haircut will likely be satisfying enough for fans, but the hint of what more they could have done will linger after every listen.