Gnome Improvement

Cleveland's best band gets big on a new album

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Mr. Gnome have never been an easy band to nail down. Floating somewhere among the wide-open spaces of goth, pop, experimental, psychedelic, and indie music, the Cleveland duo takes surreal trips through the stratosphere, never idling long enough for one identifiable sound to surface. Their third album, Madness in Miniature, is even more of a mind-blowingly singular listen. Singer and guitarist Nicole Barille admits the music she and drummer/pianist Sam Meister make can sound "a little crazy at times.

"When we started, we didn't know what we were getting into," she says. "Now we're trying to refine that sound and make a sound that reflects all the music we love. We never put boundaries on what we're doing. We go to the heavy side, we go to the softer side."

Madness in Miniature, which comes out next week, was recorded at Josh Homme's Los Angeles studio. And like Homme's records with Queens of the Stone Age and Them Cooked Vultures, the album sounds unmistakably massive — quite an accomplishment, considering it was made by just two people holed up in the studio with their gear. Of course, pulling this off onstage, without all the studio gadgets at their disposal, can be tricky. But Barille says they have no intention of expanding on the model, even in concert. "It's challenging," she laughs. "We're still a work in progress."

After spending the past few years on the road with no real place to call home, Barille and Meister finally settled into a house in Chardon recently. But you'd never guess there's any stability in their lives now based on the beautiful racket they make on Madness in Miniature, a strong contender for best local album of 2011. Barille says they were inspired by album artists of the 1970s like Pink Floyd, who used to make full-length records to be consumed in one 45-minute session. In other words, this isn't music to be shuffled on iTunes. Mr. Gnome recently launched a U.S. tour that wraps up in Cleveland a week before Christmas with a show at the Beachland Ballroom. "It will definitely be a party," says Barille.

AM GOLD: Back in the day, when people actually listened to the radio, WIXY 1260 AM was one of the biggest stations in the country. During its peak years in the 1960s, it pulled in more than half of all Cleveland radio listeners. That's a pretty big deal. The station's rise and inevitable fall are documented in WIXY 1260: Pixies, Six-Packs, and Supermen, a new book by Mike Olszewski, Richard Berg, and Carlo Wolff. Before they became so rigid, with their playlists and formats, radio stations used to play everything — and that was a key to WIXY's success. The Beatles, Supremes, Del Shannon, Leslie Gore, and James Brown would make up a typical 15-minute block of music on WIXY.

But there was more to it than that: The station had star DJs, drool-worthy promotions, and in-studio appearances that helped fuel its skyrocketing ratings. The book covers all this, chronicling a chunk of Cleveland history with help from the guys who made it.

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