When mr. Gnome debuted in Cleveland in 2005, it could have been easy to lump them in with the rash of bluesy indie duos that sprung up across the Rust Belt throughout the late ’90s and mid ’00s-most famously the White Stripes and the Black Keys. But unlike many of their peers who contentedly reveled in gritty, garage stomps and Midwestern sensibilities, mr. Gnome used those elements as springboards into fantastical new worlds. Since then, the husband-and-wife team of Nicole Barille (vocals and guitar) and Sam Meister (pianos and drums) have released a number of atmospheric and increasingly ambitious records, touching on grinding psych riffs, tent revival hollers, folksy lullabies and cabaret.
Their latest LP, The Heart of the Dark Star, was recorded in their home studio, leading to a comparatively stripped-down sound that allows greater intimacy. This stylistic turn becomes most apparent in Barille’s haunting, multilayered vocals on “Dark Star,” and the dynamic builds of “Follow” and its adjoining harmonic interlude, “No Place Like Home.” The effect, depending on your read, is that of a one-woman ensemble of Sirens tempting sailors or a heavenly chorus of angels. The album continues in chameleon-like form from the carnival-meets-honky tonk of “Odyssey” to the sultry, R&B-flecked “Lights.” The highest point is “Star Stealers,” which climbs from a gospel rocker to a space-soaring voyage punctuated by Meister’s militaristic drums and climaxing in a piercing guitar solo before returning to Earth. The Heart of the Dark Star is strange and colorful, for sure, but it’s a trip worth taking.