Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Madness in Miniature

Mr. Gnome.  Madness in Miniature.
El Marko Records, 2011.  Mr. Gnome:

We’re a little late on this one.  Mr. Gnome has been getting a lot of notice lately, including reviews in Rolling Stone and Magnet, mention in Esquire and on NPR, and some TV exposure on Final Witness.  Nice going.  I probably can’t add much to what’s already been said about this duo from Cleveland, except for my own impressions, and the fact that we’ve added virtually all of their recordings to the Hiram College Library’s collection (and we modestly point out that we are the only academic library to do so--Cleveland Public Library also has most of their stuff).  I like them, and the more I listen to them, the more I like them.  My wife doesn’t, but she has radically different tastes (I only add this because of her direct comment while I was playing this loud).  I switched from the boom box to my headphones.

They have been dubbed “art rock” by the press, which I guess means that they’re tough to classify, and they paint their faces.  The comparisons made to Pere Ubu are inevitable, but I don’t hear it (I never much liked them anyway).  Their music is eclectic, dark, intimate, and odd, in a way that makes you want to keep listening for what’s next and piece it together in your own head.  The songs have a dream-like effect, not in the sense of soft clouds and pretty lights, but more in the way real dreams go, from beautiful moments to heart-rending terror.  The lyrics add to the effect by seeming like they ought to make sense, yet elude me.  Nicole Barille’s voice is alternately soaring and beautiful, or shrill and screeching, depending on the effect desired.  Curiously, she sometimes reminds me of Macy Gray in vocal approach, except when the screeching starts. Not that I object to screeching, after all, it is rock music and it has to make it’s point.  And they rock hard, ranging from jangly alt-rock to drug-induced psychedelic tribalism to noise to other stuff that I can’t name, but change rhythms and moods quite often within the same song, so a groove seldom surfaces for long.  Tracks tend to bleed into one another and the result is a pastiche effect, where one tries to make all the pieces fit into a single whole.  By and large this is quite successful, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  The overdubbing leads to a rich, full sound that is well beyond what one might expect of a duo.

For context, I listened to their earlier albums, and found a general consistency of sound, although they continue to develop their style and approach, and are more sophisticated than in their early EPs.  Not surprising.  As artists, they are growing and finding new ways to say what they want, and if that didn’t happen I’d be disappointed.  It’s clear that this duo is making some very intelligent and enjoyable music.  Keep it up.

Personnel:  Nicole Barille (guitars, vocals), Sam Meister (drums, piano, backup vocals), Jason Meister (guitars, track 12).
Tracks:  Ate the Sun, Awake, House of Circles, Run for Cover, Bit of Tongue, Fly Me Over, We Sing Electric, Winter, Wolf Girls, Outsiders, Watch the City Sail Away, Capsize.

The Grand Wazoo

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