Various Artists

No Age [SST]

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An unsung classic of the avant-garde music scene, No Age is, on the surface, simply a compilation of experimental instrumental music. The difference, though, is that most of the musicians who participated on the album came not from the jazz world, but from punk rock or an underground even the most adventurous listeners rarely visited. It's easy to forget that for most people in 1987, instrumental rock music often meant little more than recycled '60s surf. With the increasingly widespread popularity of Black Flag and Hüsker Dü, however, Greg Ginn and SST were in a unique position to shatter that impression, and did so admirably with this double-LP set. Though SST is a California label, there is little evidence of the reverbed Stratocasters and dance party music of old. Instead, the listener finds a cornucopia of melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and most importantly, sonic textures that constantly challenge and surprise. The variety here is nothing short of stunning, from the Don Henley-meets-"sheets of sound"-era John Coltrane guitar stylings of Glen Phillips to the spastic, densely polyrhythmic Synclavier hammering of Henry Kaiser. Other important elements of No Age are the sequencing and track choice, which are both first-rate. For those who tire easily of completely improvised, aimless noodling, there are several pieces based on more traditional melodic and harmonic concepts. For those looking for complete freak-out music, that's here too. In some ways, this album is one of the most successful comps of all time in that it effectively presents a cohesive yet comprehensive overview of an incredibly diverse genre, all the while remaining eminently listenable. Overall, No Age is an absolute must-have for any fan of left-of-center music that has heart and soul.

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