Heave Yer Skeleton
by Scott Deckman
Mr. Gnome is about the weirdest band I’ve liked in awhile, and they’re also one of the most unique. Singer Nicole Barille has the sexiest singing voice imaginable, but at times, you want to smack her and tell her to sing in her real voice, but then you think: Would it sound remotely like this? Of course it wouldn’t, and it’s her otherworldly, Betty Boop cartoon voice, plus her goofy pronunciation and cadence, that makes Mr. Gnome so damn entrancing in the first place.
And I do mean entrancing. Most strange, ethereal music isn’t very catchy. And I’ll even admit, the first time I downloaded “Slow Side,” I wasn’t too impressed, and promptly forgot about it. When I found it a couple weeks later and didn’t know what it was and gave it another listen, that changed right quick. Abstruse lyrics sung in trippy vocals about a silver giant are stretched over a sinister groove that surges to and fro. Moreover, when I went trolling on the Internet for more Mr. Gnome clips while waiting for Heave Yer Skeleton to arrive, I found them all pretty digestible, especially “Vampires,” song number seven on the album. It features Nicole singing along to a jazzy, bouncy beat, doing strange things with her voice as only she can, eventually bringing the heavy distortion the band is also known for, but their metal thunder is distorted enough so even that has a strange glaze I can’t even call metal. Post-industrial metal? Who knows? The band likes to trade in sweet, weird, gloomy, and heavy pretty evenly.
“Oh my love. Yeah, I’ll miss you more than you’ll ever know,” she wails during the refrain as the song speeds up. And you find yourself in reverie thinking she might be crooning about you. Yeah, right. That fact that there’s a killing involved doesn’t even factor in.
“Plastic Shadow” is a 21st century martial wet dream with nods to Jimmy Page, and also features stark percussion… and she better stop this stuff with her voice. It’s also somewhat of a revelation that just two of them are making this racket (production wizardry aside). While drummer husband Sam Meister certainly takes a backseat, his drumming and percussion drives many of the songs; and he’s a more than competent beat-keeper who can pound it out when he needs to. Much like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before them, who at times make strange, fantastic art, Mr. Gnome is not happy music. But it’s powerful and engrossing all the same.
Not everything the duo does is a winner though: Opener “Spain” is a repetitive dirge whose aspirations exceed its reach, and not much can even be said for next song “Hills, Valleys & Valium.” It’s so short (38 seconds), you don’t miss it when it’s gone. To be fair, the spare percussion, clapping and singing is just a bridge to “Slow Side.” “Sit Up & Hum” is long and unfocused as well. Mr. Gnome likes its prog rock. Then they come back with something like “Cleveland Polka.” It’s a slice of warped hardcore and everything dangerous rock should be. And I just can’t imagine Drew Carey and the gang moshing to this song. All the better. Closer, and album namesake, “Heave Yer Skeleton” shows Nicole at her most heartfelt, crooning over ambient noise and piano. More than most records with uneven material, it’s the highlights on Heave Yer Skeleton that stand out. That much of Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat is esoteric and even unlistenable, it doesn’t stop you from craving the title track, does it? Give me the peaks.
Among other acts, comparisons to PJ Harvey, Björk, Tool, and Portishead have been made (I think Nicole sounds a bit like a tripped-out, distorted Kristin Hersh), but Mr. Gnome has their own warped agenda. I’ve seen the future and it’s scary.