|THE BADGER HERALD
Meow Meow and other strange noises
by Ryan Swan, Associate ArtsEtc. Editor
February 20, 2004
It's usually good to be wary of people calling themselves an art
band. A lot of the time it means they think music is something other
than art. Granted, it sometimes yields the Flaming Lips or the Velvet
Underground, but then again, it sometimes just leads to a very bad
Lucky for the listeners that Meow Meow wasn't thinking nearly as
much about the avant-garde as throwing down catchy riffs. Their debut
album, Snow Gas Bones, leans heavily on the production side but doesn't
forget that melody does an album good.
In a lot of ways, Snow Gas Bones is the album that Fountains of
Wayne's Welcome Interstate Managers could have been if the latter
hadn't decided to rehash its previous albums. Christopher O'Brien's
hushed vocals bear a striking resemblance to Wayne frontman Chris
Collingwood. A self-declared Beach Boys influence doesn't hurt, and
Brian Wilson would probably be proud of Meow Meow's subtle audio
Although its off-key harmonies don't serve as
an accurate sample of the album as a whole, "Cracked" kicks off Snow Gas Bones
with a quick introduction to Kirk Hellie's (guitar/bass/keyboards/electronics)
love of electric tone-bending. O'Brien ends a verse with the words "that
same deafening sound / it's been ringing through my head," and
a chorus of squawking guitars, synths and straight noise explodes,
cutting back out to the second verse.
More evidence of Hellie's abilities to craft
sounds in the studio comes to the forefront on "Amourosis." The track's bassline
and airy acoustic guitar are at first reminiscent of Aimee Mann's "Save
Me," but like "Cracked," the fuzzy vocals and squawks
underneath the track eventually blow up into a mess of siren-like
On "Sick Fixation," it's tough not
to point fingers toward any number of Fountains of Wayne, but Hellie's
guitar saves the band again by making characteristically un-guitar-like
sounds. The combination of digital blips and noise is seamless.
"Finis" is a slow drone over an organ
vamp, and Meow Meow proves it shines when treading darker tones.
Theremins come in and out, whistling together to create a weird
forest of sound. Then everything drops out but the echo and plaintive
"Finis" is also a lyrical highpoint for the album. Sparse
impressions leave just enough up to interpretation and the moody
tone, as O'Brien sings, "When the silent movie ends / all you're
left with are your hands / to speak the words you long to say."
The only complaint is that despite its irresistible
melodies, Meow Meow never seems to tackle any new concepts. On
the first track, O'Brien makes a mistake by noting at the outset
that he's "got
nothing to say anyways." The track listing doesn't seem to stray
from the standard pop-girl motif. Girl in love, girl out of love,
and girl who doesn't return phone calls all make a couple of appearances.
The only time the album really strays is on the
one-minute intro to "Amplified Breathing Apparatus." Behind plaintive chimes,
an unspecified voice can be heard saying, "I dunno man, I just
think you need to go more Ween," and "These guys are just
too f-ckin' poppy, and I don't mean in a heroin way." Then a
Steve-Reich-inspired fadeout before it's back to more straight pop.
In the end, pop is often best served like a plate of Pixie Stix.
It's a sugar rush that leaves behind an electric rush and a sweet,
sweet taste. On that scale, Meow Meow succeeds with Snow Gas Bones,
and it will be interesting to see what comes next.