Madness in Miniature
by Scott Deckman
Mr. Gnome make art. That’s a given. They seem to make concept albums, that’s true too, along with dense layers of sonic mayhem that’s as difficult to classify as anything you’ll likely hear. But that’s what makes them special in this hyper-categorical, commoditized world. Mr. Gnome make art.
That (according to Obscure Sound) the husband-and-wife team of Sam Meister and Nicole Barille supposedly got to know one another on a porn set (where they both worked, she in makeup, he a camera operator, uhm, uhm… not discounting a sex tape floating around out there somewhere) makes their sophisticated din pretty astounding. Somehow porn starlets and their scumbag pimps don’t exactly ring out creativity or integrity. In fact, if you looked up ethereal in the dictionary, Nicole Barille’s picture would be there, maybe in the Satanic or witch’s version, likely with that skull-like makeup she donned in one of her press photos.
Their third full-length, Madness in Miniature doesn’t have the peaks of debut Deliver This Creature or sophomore outing Heave Yer Skeleton, but it’s better than Skeleton‘s follow-up single, “Tastes Like Magic,” which, to be honest, didn’t taste very good. But it’ll be up to you to make the ultimate decision where Madness in Miniature fits in the Mr. Gnome oeuvre. One thing’s for certain: It’s as arty as anything they’ve done or probably ever will do. Of course, good, bad or mediocre, Mr. Gnome only make art. They can’t seem to help themselves.
Opener “Ate the Sun” is close to succeeding, and may have with a little more TLC or interesting ideas. For a song that was probably meant to be a statement, it feels incomplete. “Bit of Tongue” brings the band’s use of juxtaposition to the fore, starting off all Mazzy Star on something, graduating to their standard Cleveland Polka hardcore, then moving on to some Shapeshifter-era Marcy Playground, before ending things in a sludgy crescendo’d mixture of all three. Actually, a menacing heartbeat is tacked on to the end of things that leads into follow-up segue “Fly Me Over.” Clocking in at only 3:27, “Bit of Tongue” may or may not be a tour de force, but it’s the album’s standout track.
“Outsiders” begins with a Spanish-sounding beat before slowing things down with a tasteful, doomy guitar lick, then here comes the hardcore snippet. Later, Nicole screams “I would be trouble” in and around a grinding wall of noise. The song trades dirge, noise, Spanish beats and finally thunder drums until the tune’s beginning repeats itself, more or less. Closer “Capsize” makes use of this frenetic, Spanish-style beat too. This all sounds better on paper than in your ears. “Outsiders” is another unrealized could’ve-been that misses the gestalt train.
“Wolf Girls” is weird and oddly comforting (oddly comforting because it’s as strange and obscure as the rest of their work), showing off Nicole’s sex-and-death opiate chords and a nice little melody hidden beneath trademark Gnomish postmodern murk. And this melody thing, even the strained-and-obscured kind favored by them, underscores the minor lament I have with Madness in Miniature, and it really isn’t minor. While the album is certainly a piece of work, the band hasn’t written anything as catchy as “Vampires,” “Cleveland Polka” or “Slow Side,” nor is there a “Pirates” or “Night of the Crickets” to be found, either. In fact, “Bit of Tongue” may be the only top-tier song from Madness in Miniature. You can argue that’s the point, that prog rock is a pet of theirs. But I disagree. To me, the song still reigns supreme.
But catchy tunes aside, the true upside to their music, other than the unique sonics, spiky rhythms, and Nicole’s Bernadette Peters-cum-Betty Boop-from-Hell vocals, is that Mr. Gnome tell warped, abstract, at times universal tales of inner torment and discovery, without a hint of year, decade, or sometimes even century. If Mary Shelley were around these days, methinks she’d like to put on Mr. Gnome whist writing her Gothic tales.