People Helping People

No Age

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People Helping People Review

by Fred Thomas

Los Angeles duo No Age have always experimented with their sometimes dream-like, sometimes excitable punk sound, but never have those experiments been as fully on display and integral to the songs as on their sixth proper album People Helping People. After being evicted from their longtime practice space, No Age relocated to guitarist Randy Randall's garage and set up a makeshift studio to record songs for the album, not just working on the record in a home-recording style, but for the first time producing, engineering, and mixing without any outside help. This results in an album that sounds like No Age gleefully reveling in self-discovery -- like something they arrived at by chance -- more so than at any point in their already adventurous discography. The album is heavy on instrumental tracks, including some that follow the same formless, fuzzy ambient style the band has been exploring since they began, and some that take new routes. Album-closer "Andy Helping Andy" is a blissed-out drift of synth drones and off-kilter electronic rhythms, sounding akin to Miles of Smiles-era Black Dice, while "Heavenly" is a moody, wordless rocker, growing from eerie keyboard drifts into a melancholic forward push of wistful guitar melodies. The songs with vocals go in a different direction with each new track, and No Age sound like a new version of themselves song by song. "Violence" is a straightforward blast of distorted punk guitars and dead drums, "Slow Motion Shadow" sounds like a decades-old cassette of a boom box-recorded practice, and "Compact Flashes" lines up synthetic drum sequences and live drums into a tight Krautrock-styled propulsion, only to completely dismantle the arrangement every few seconds. "Rush to the Pond" begins with ragged acoustic guitar and grows into a gently raging anthem full of murky tones and psychedelic undercurrents. The songwriting on People Helping People is on par with both the quality and distinctively off-axis voice No Age has exhibited on previous albums, but the truly unpredictable sounds and endlessly unraveling layers the duo find in their independent production is what makes the album so remarkable. They approach the sound of the record from angles they've never attempted before, and in the process they achieve some sounds that are brand new -- not just to them, but really unlike anything being made by any of their peers or followers. Always a unique band, with these 13 experiments, No Age has created something puzzling, beautiful, and one-of-a-kind.

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