Pop Addict: Mr. Gnome’s Madness in Miniature

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Mr. Gnome: Madness in MiniatureMr. Gnome: Madness in Miniature (El Marko, 10/25/11)

Mr. Gnome: “Ate the Sun”

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Formed in 2005, Cleveland-based duo Mr. Gnome has been offering introspective, spooky indie rock ever since its inception. Even though the art-rock band is composed of just singer/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer/pianist Sam Meister, Mr. Gnome finds a way to make a lot of noise. And thankfully for us, it’s noise worth hearing.

Though two-pieces are fairly common these days, Mr. Gnome has managed to stand out with the best of them. The band’s latest effort, Madness in Miniature, finds Barille and Meister confident, collected, and ready for the limelight, armed with a catalog of varied instrumentation and musical styles.

The album flexes its muscles frequently. Oscillating between raucously distorted guitars, atmospheric soundscapes, persistent drumming, and Barille’s full-on belt-outs and soft-spoken vocal layers, the body of work immediately calls to mind the best stuff by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills, with hints of Queens of the Stone Age peppered throughout. And just a few tracks in, it becomes apparent: this is fright rock at its finest.

The most interesting moments of Madness in Miniature are when Barille and Meister are in full-on rock-out mode. With so many parts and arrangements, you sometimes forget that there are only two people masterminding this album. Obviously, it’s easier to pull that off on a recording than in concert, but there are so many ideas floating around this haunted house of an album — chilled-out tracks bleed into ghostly, supernatural sounds, which then bleed into crunching rock ‘n’ roll — that it leaves you wondering where the band will go on the next track.

“House of Cards” is the clear-cut hit here, featuring an array of sonic qualities: clean-cut guitars at the intro and verses, riff-laden interludes and bridges, raucous choruses, both sweet and distorted vocals, creepy harmonies, pulse-pounding percussion, and Halloween-esque howling. This variety is reflected in the rest of the album: “Bit of Tongue” features subdued guitars and pleasant, straightforward vocals; “Wolf Girls” features high-speed riffs and relentless drumming; and the short-lived “Run for Cover” features a heavily textured harmony from Barille and Meister as the song builds.

Barille shows quite the variety, not only in vocal range but in vocal style. Swaying between more subdued, standard approaches, and then reaching into peaks of throat-tearing yelping — but always hitting her notes — Barille’s voice is one that should not go unrecognized. (It’s one that could certainly give Karen O a run for her money, anyway.)

But even with the variety, Mr. Gnome is truly at its finest when it turns up the distortion and lets loose. Tracks like “House of Cards,” “We Sing Electric,”  and “Capsize” show that the band is at full strength when it’s going bat-shit. If Mr. Gnome keeps churning out artistic Halloween rock like this, there’s no reason the band can’t become an indie staple.

[Chromatic, our 400-page exploration of musicians and color, is out now. Order here!]

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