John Book/The Run-Off Groove
One of the best albums of 2008 (so far)
It's great to look at an album cover, see the band name and wonder "what the hell is this?" Some might say it will lead to "I hope this rocks" but that has been happening since the dawn of (name band here). I'm looking at the cover of Deliver This Creature (El Marko) by a group calling themselves mr. Gnome and I have no idea what I'm going to get into. Their bio rattles off some of the genres they include in their music, but I stop there, I don't want to know anymore, but I'm warmed up to expect a bit of everything. The album begins with an electric guitar, and at the 9 second mark I'm hearing the faint voice of a lady. It's dreamy, like Norah Jones with a babydoll dress, and at this stage I'm not sure what to expect. At the 46 second point the guitars are driven up and I immediately think of Polly Jean Harvey. The execution and balance between the fine and the rugged is met, but then at the 1:28 point I hear a Bjork-ish or Alanis Morisette-like wail. It rocks, and I love the start-stop-start vamps midway into the song. There are a few psychedelic drones, as if someone is turning the crank by hand and delivering the audio seeds to be planted in the mind, and one wants to just create Satanic hand gestures and rock almighty. Then things get interesting.
Vocalist/guitarist Nicole Barille has the kind of voice that might seem unusual at first, but give it a few listens and eventually you'll warm up to her style of singing. It's not just gentle whispers, because the moment you expect her to stay calm she'll scream, curdle, and puke out each word. With lyrics such as rabbit lives up in my head/wake to find that I've been dead/times it hops from side to side/times it picks a place to hide/rabbit seeping in my brain/wishing things would stay the same/slowly we become alive/me and rabbit now decide (from "Rabbit"), this is not something you are able to listen to one time and put away. Some songs are filled with metaphor and vivid imagery, but as is the case with "Silhouette", it's a song of love that doesn't need to get complex to make its point. Barille's lead vocals are not only impressive, but it's great when she multi-layers too, creating an incredible wall that might make people remember the strengthen and power that Siouxsie Sioux provides.
Drummer Sam Meister is her partner in crime, and with a group that's only two members, the focus is more direct. His drumming will be loved by anyone who loves a solid drum sound, the entire album is a drum fest and hearing just that and an electric guitar is a voyage back to the days of rocking out all alone in your bedroom. They do include a few other elements into their music, as Meister plays piano and brings in a few friends to add in different elements, but the sound of mr. Gnome is very much about the union between Meister and Barille. Some might immediately compare them to The White Stripes, and I think the openness of the music allows those comparisons to happen but their brand of gut-busting rock is their own, and there are thousands of duos out there who rock out with just guitar and drums. mr. Gnome just happen to have the chops, and well written songs that will keep people coming back for more. One of the more effective moments of the album happens in "Night Of The Crickets", where all you hear are the words "ding dong" repeated over and over. It becomes an instrument in itself, a meditative tool that helps drive the song's message home, even if its actual meaning may be the subject of discussion (is it really about nature and crickets, or something to do with human nature?)
Deliver This Creature is a creature indeed, but one that you want to take care of and bring to its proper destination. It's a very exciting album that brings to mind the greatness of what music can and should be today if you just put your mind to it, or make an effort to find something as moving as this.