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Unexpectedly Sexy 

Mr. Gnome may be a male/female guitar/drums duo, but they're not the White Stripes

We love you and would like to have sex with all of you. We're pretty much down for anything. Hugs and spankings, Mr. Gnome.

So ends the news posting on Cleveland band Mr. Gnome's Web site. From that, you might think: frat-boy band? Some kind of Ween rip-off project?

But Mr. Gnome is all about shattering your expectations. In actuality, Mr. Gnome is Nicole Barille on guitar and vocals and Sam Meister on drums, two Midwestern kids who play the kind of rock 'n' roll you thought no one played anymore. Barille's guitar wrenches out fuzzing chords; Meister's drums splash and boil; and Barille's voice, soulful and crystalline, sounds even smoother against the sandpaper surface of her guitar.

Songs like "El Marko" from their first EP, 2005's Echoes on the Ground, goes from a hypnotic, clean channel guitar melody to a wall of noise. "Dr. Cakorkian," on their new, self-titled EP, dances between tempos and starts and stops. It's jam-band grunge, classic rock with breasts, the kind of heavy/loud that actually becomes meditative.

"I don't know how we started writing so heavy," said Barille. "We really fell in love with the soft/loud dynamic, and I think we thought that was a really interesting way to write--having these really beautiful parts and then just clashing with a much heavier sound."

Barille herself often surprises people: Her command of her axe is impressive, female or not.

"I think when we get up there, people don't have any idea what to expect," said Barille. "That usually is what people say, that they didn't expect to hear that sound come out of what we were doing."

What's amazing is their ability to fill up songs with only two instruments; it's hard to believe they're getting that much sound out of only one guitar. Mr. Gnome fell into the guitar/drums dynamic on accident, explained Barille.

"We started out as more of a full band; Sam was playing acoustic guitar, and I was playing lead," said Barille. "We had a lot of time off at the time--we were both finishing college, and we had a couple of days where we could just kind of jam and start to become better musicians. ... Sam had always had a drum set since he was 15 but never got into playing it, and we just started jamming as a two-piece. We've had bass players play with us, but I think that the writing process was a lot more natural just with the two of us, and we felt really comfortable telling each other what we liked and didn't like about the songwriting, so we just kind of kept it that way."

Each song grows naturally into multipart ruminations, with Meister's drums and Barille's guitar traveling all over the place but somehow managing to stay fixed on a certain melodic theme or idea.

"I don't think we ever intended to make this such a full-time thing; it just kind of happened," said Barille. "When we started writing songs together, we were never like, 'We want to sound like this band or that'; it just kind of happened. I would play chords for Sam, and we'd kind of arrange them together and figure out where we'd want to take them, and I think all of the influences we had just from listening to music came out in that, rather than us wanting to sound like something."

The songs, like the band, just seem to happen. Rhythms and vocal parts fall in out of nowhere, and you have no choice but to follow wherever it is the song is taking you. Something about that unexpectedness is what makes Mr. Gnome's music better with each listen.

Or it could just be, as Meister said, "We make people feel sexy."

More by Annie Holub

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