Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Band's labyrinth

Into the woods with Cleveland duo Mr. Gnome



Mr. Gnome

with Basements of Florida, Wet Nurse
8:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 12
Will’s Pub, 407-898-5070

Madness in Miniature
(El Marko Records)

In so many inspired ways, Cleveland’s Mr. Gnome is a band that thwarts expectation. Although they’re a guitar-and-drums rock duo, they’re anything but primitivists, with an ambitiously dense sound that ventures deep into arty terrain. And this third quantum-leap album, Madness in Miniature, is their best-conceived and most cohesive work by far.

Besides their impressive scope and depth, their emotional and sonic power comes from the dynamic tension quivering in every strand of their DNA. There’s the diving dance between the feminine spell of guitarist-singer Nicole Barille and the masculine insistence of drummer-pianist Sam Meister. But then there’s even the duality within Barille herself: She’s gifted with a balletic voice that goes easily from cabaret songbird to dead-raising indie belter on par with Karen O. However, never too precious, she’s unafraid to stab that sensuality with slabs of guitar sludge, a force made positively enveloping by her masterful live effects-pedal work. What results is a breathlessly twisted tango between atmosphere and crunch.

In addition to the marauding pressure and relentlessness of riveting songs like “We Sing Electric” and “Wolf Girls,” the absolute choicest cuts are “Ate the Sun,” an achingly gorgeous swoon amid deluging guitars, and “House of Circles,” a hexed, bluesy specter that ravages through big stomps and bigger riffs.

Mr. Gnome’s vision is like a rock manifestation of a Guillermo del Toro film. From the labyrinthine intrigue of their sound to the dark fantasy of their self-made cover art, their world is a beautifully gnarled forest through which dark and light forever interplay. They exist outside of trend, choosing instead to render their own elaborate, self-contained reality in full and vivid dimension. And Madness in Miniature is the most sturdy and crystal distillation of their singular aesthetic to date. A work of extraordinary craft and gutsy execution, it’s both beautiful and serious in astonishing measure.