Madness in Miniature
El Marko Records
October 23, 2011 Mr. Gnome
Fuzzy guitars glow around you, beckoning you to fall further into the sound. A soft drum beat and ethereal vocals approach you from behind. Gently, they guide you further into the ever dubious but enticing rabbit hole. Before you know it, the guitars are seething with energy and voices echo all around you. The ride is in full swing but you don't dare get off.
This surreal adventure is Mr. Gnome's third full-length album. Madness in Miniature continues the soft and hard auditory contrasts the band played with in their 2009 full-length release, Heave Yer Skeleton. Cleveland-based Mr. Gnome, or Nicole Barille and Sam Meister, have been creating somewhat distorted and haunting music since 2005. They have an eye for all things uncanny but beautiful, as evidenced by the juxtaposition of downright pretty vocals and explosive guitars. With this album, the duo creates an adventure of contrasts. Soft sounds thrash around with hard sounds. The album speeds up during some parts and slows almost to a standstill in other parts, yet remains whole throughout.
"Ate the Sun," the album's opening track, draws the listener in with its strange lyrics and delicate vocals. The narrator, perhaps someone who is familiar with the phenomenon at hand, describes an ominous sleepless adventure. The song only has a few layers and the lyrics are cryptic, but it is more than enough to get one's attention. It is the plain, unmarked door that creates the threshold, an unmistakable sign. Getting through this track lets the listener know that something is definitely up ahead.
"Awake," "Run For Cover," and "Fly Me Over" are small mini songs or rather interludes placed between longer tracks. They are passageways and corridors that move the album from one area to another. They are the whispers you think you heard and the mysterious footsteps behind you, constantly reminding you that the surreal adventure is far from over. Despite these markers of sorts, the exploit that is the album is anything but a straightforward path. "House of Circles," one of the album's singles, is a prime example of how the band creates movement that winds and twists. The song begins with the immaculate pairing of Meister's steady beats and Barille's almost wispy vocals. It develops itself into an insanely catchy rock song with pounding guitars and spooky voices. As it progresses, it quickly slows and almost decays. Barille's voice flickers briefly from the remains and, just as rapidly as it slowed, it ignites itself again. It is still the same song but the texture is no longer the same; it has progressed, but not directly forward. "Outsiders" is another example of how the band weaves and winds as it develops a song. This track rises and falls. Guitars and drums explode then quickly muffle themselves. Regardless of its wave-like progression, it works. Other tracks, such as "Bit of Tongue," "We Sing Electric," and "Wolf Girls," do not have such drastic flutters but retain the essential play of polarities.
"Winter" and "Watch the City Sail Away" are the two noticeably slower songs. Yet they never feel weak or seem liked they failed to take off. They are merely the dreary moonlit forests that the listener travels through. "Capsize," the closing track, follows a similarly slow setup. Although, since it does close the album and end the journey, it ends up becoming a thrashing animal. Meister relentlessly attacks the cymbals and Barille screams out. It is the final thorny thicket you need to pass through to finally reach the clearing. Once the echoes fade, the adventure is over and the same wispy voice that led you in shows you out.
Madness in Miniature takes the listener through dreamlike and sometimes spooky landscapes. From throbbing rock to swirls of psychedelic, this album showcases how different textures and layers can make songs multifaceted. The next time Mr. Gnome heads to a studio full of effect pedals, I can only hope they create a similar worthwhile and intoxicating voyage.
Favorite Tracks: "House of Circles," "Outsiders," and "Ate the Sun"