Review: Meow Meow – “Snow Gas Bones”

If Meow Meow has one thing going for it – aside from the sharp cover art and packaging of its soon-to-be-released Devil in the Woods CD – it’s that you’re never quite sure what the band is going to pull into the mix. Though the band’s a quartet, three of the members rotate between vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, and the all-encompassing “et cetera” and a handful of other musicians appear on Snow Gas Bones, but this doesn’t even begin to hint at the scope of the band’s textured sound.
In one breath, this is the harmony-fixated Beach Boys filtered through the guitar triggers of mid-80s Brainiac, and in the next My Bloody Valentine as recorded by Erik Sanko of Skeleton Key. One song’s a noisy ode with a power-pop refrain that could put Weezer to shame, and the song that follows it is a document of Malkmus fronting Eels. It can be bizarre. But it also works.

The finest moments on Snow Gas Bones are the ones that wrap themselves wholeheartedly around this lack of predictability, that quiver with excitement at the prospect of leaving the listener wondering where exactly they’re being led. The record has both bombastic and subtle examples of this, the former being “Amaurosis,” which wavers between a somber whisper with ominous keyboards and a reckless, pummeling chorus where drummer/percussionist Norm Block pounds his set ferociously at every turn.

Then there’s “Sick Fixation” (the Beach Boys-inflected single) and “The Killing Kind,” where poppy bridges are more carefully undermined with deeply processed guitars and noisy asides, the lines between quiet and loud, harmony and dissonance subtly blurred.

The experimental leanings on these tracks are inviting and seem to draw your ears to them like magnets, but it’s the structure and sweetness of the songs – in short, their more conventional verse-chorus-verse sentiments, recorded with precision and attention to a sometimes commercial sheen – that’s the real star. And there’s the rub.

While many will listen to “The Killing Kind” and point to its saccharine-sweet vocals or the three-part harmonies (and they are most definitely worth noting), what should be most intriguing about the material is its experimental edge. Meow Meow, though, often chooses to assign those leanings a supporting role, making the record a pop-rock document with experimental leanings rather than an experimental rock document with pop leanings. It’s more digestible to a wider set of listeners, but it can also underestimate the strength of smart noise.

That being said, even when Meow Meow is playing it straight with guitar-driven verses or making sure to sink the hooks under the skin, the record is sharp and better with each spin.

“Finis” is a great mood piece, a primordial mass of white noise and ambient suggestions. “All I Ever Got” is pure, radio-ready album-oriented rock, destined to be blasting out of some car window as it’s cruising down an endless highway. “Amplified Breathing Apparatus” and “Wear Your Down,” both with reflective endings, are frail and revealing in a way much of the record is not.

Yeah, kids, Kirk Hellie’s guitar makes sounds and produces textures you could never muster with your Fender tube amp and a couple of pedals, but the record is about more than songs accented with cute tricks.

If, in the next round, Meow Meow becomes even more brazen with its experimentalist/noise streak and leans less on the pop structures, you may be knocked off your feet. For now, though, the band managed to cook up a feast that toys with your expectations about how those often-disparate elements – let’s call them snow and gas and bones – can be reconfigured and presented as a complex whole. – Delusions of Adequacy, April 19, 2004

About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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