The first image you’ll notice when delving into the world of mr. Gnome is the beautiful visage of Nicole Barille. Her tomboy-next-door good looks is equally buoyed by a weird streak displayed in a barrage of twisted press photos—often with a painted face; the colors of a gal at war in a man’s world. But her partner in battle happens to have male genitalia, and Sam Meister is producing a heaping amount of testosterone as displayed by the machine gun blasts he unleashes on his drum kit. But these are just gifts bequeathed upon birth—they are not indicative of talent, passion, and drive. That mr. Gnome is pegged for success because of Nicole or Sam’s good looks sells short the band’s third album, Madness in Miniature, of its hard-fought successes.
mr. Gnome has quietly built up steam over the course of six years. Hailing from Cleveland (at the moment, a mecca for synth and drone), the band’s frenzied and fried brand of rock and roll could be mistaken for fellow Ohioan big boppers the Black Keys, but that too would sell mr. Gnome short. Also connecting the band with the zombies of rock and roll as they hang in effigy–preserved by white collars and record executives (who prefer the term, ‘enshrined’)—would be a grave mistake; they may have ingested their share of spectral influence from the streets of Cleveland but it’s likely in the form of Rockets from the Tombs and Pere Ubu shot up like junk in their pulsing veins.
Madness in Miniature, the duo’s third full-length, serves as their coming out party. No more playing nice—MIM is a loud battle cry, dotted with moments of jagged tenderness. The ambered chains of the R&RHOF shaking with ferocity from Sam and Nicole’s heady stampede; the dust of a sleeping city rising like heavy fog to disguise the impending attack on history and institution. They may have ingratiated themselves with modern rock royalty (Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age) but it’s all due to their talent, not any sort of idol (or idle) worship.
More than anything, MIM is the most realized album of mr. Gnome’s short (but hopefully lengthy) career. Songs bleed into one another as if naturally flowing from mind to limb to instrument to tape. There is little influence of gender, state, or musical association—mr. Gnome is viciously carving out their own niche in the flesh of the self-appointed gatekeepers of rock fashion. Listen no further than album opener “Ate the Sun.” Barille’s innocently soft vocals wobble and waver during the song’s quiet verses before bursting in Valhalla wails during the bombastic chorus; a stream of loud rippling guitars compete for space among Meister’s gunshot snare and thunderous bass drums. The band’s stalwart promise of “No sleep until we’re dead” may echo to the lords of the rock and roll manor but none dared to swallow the sun in extravagance.
But the band is not afraid of fragility. “Bit of Tongue” borrows from the quiet-loud-quiet handbook but its whispered moments highlight Meister’s crisp playing and Barille’s gentle voice before exploding in an old-fashioned distorted rock song. “Winter” is a wispy Hammond organ melody that effortlessly blends Barille’s warm voice with the icy notes of her guitar; it hangs like the heavy breaths of a freezing January day.
The touchstones are recognizable but the outcome is not; Madness in Miniature is the rebel yell contemporary rock—free of adjectives and complicated identifiers—has long needed. Freed from the shackles of corporate expectations and chart positioning, mr. Gnome only knows the boundaries they choose to put up, and if their oeuvre is any indication, there are none and there will continue to be none.