Snow Gas Bones
[Devil in the Woods; 2004]
Someday, the world will be rid of the likes of me and my fellow
asthmatics. Cats, continuing their 4,000 year passive/aggressive
reign, will grow in per capita population, increasingly encroaching
on our clean, dander-free air. And given the state of blind sensitivity
towards animals these days, it will be too late once the remaining
masses look up to find a good portion of mankind buried under countless
plots of cat hair. It's called natural selection, and it's only a
matter of time.
Once this realization finally hits, one other observation may go
forever unnoticed: Behind a fuzzy exterior lies a fuzzy interior.
Led by the songwriting team of Christopher O'Brien and Kirk Hellie,
Meow Meow tap their namesake's yelp with that very truth in mind.
Listeners who experience this album in a veterinarian clinic might
claim that its music is pop-oriented, with furry edges and touches.
But I believe that those pop elements-- like the innocuous mannerisms
of the feline species-- belie the music's obviously poisonous external
The soul of this band is more like Poe's Black
Cat than Davis' Garfield. Kitty apologists will delight in Meow
Meow's "sunny disposition," though
their Californian sense of melody suggests these boys were subjected
in their youth to some kind of wicked Blue Hawaiian experiment designed
to reveal the effects of too much sunshine. The lyrics don't lie.
Lines like, "Cracked torn and frayed/ I fucked it all up again," and
song titles such as "Disaffected" bear this band's standard,
while concessions to warm sentiments are just that. In fact, the
tired trick of lapping desperate, anxious, self-loathing lyrics over
a sweetly strung voice steers Meow Meow dangerously close to whiny
So-Cal pop/punk. Being more than a one-trick pony, however, Meow
Meow's lyrics quickly emerge as one component of the whole fuzzy
interior/fuzzy exterior sound, and cease their service to the Beach
Boys' vocal horse-cart.
Left with only a saccharine voice and a buried
showcase of melodic attentiveness, Snow Gas Bones presents an ironically
enjoyable sonic portrait of the best of all modern beasts, the
domestic housecat. It may coo innocently and walk in a soulful
gait, but my allergic friends and I know better: The very lines
of its silhouette predict our primal darkness. Of course, as delineated
by our good friend and fellow feline skeptic Baudelaire, if you
do it right, there can be beauty in that darkness. Witness Meow
Meow's sleepier moments, as on "Finis" or in the requisite taped-message-backed-by-treated-keyboards-backed-by-foreboding-ambience
that closes "Disaffected". "Amplified Breathing Apparatus" boasts
a great, understated fuzz-organ, loops of soft radio noise, equally
understated vocals, and vibes helming the transition between verses.
Though all the foregoing is as satisfying as
Snow Gas Bones' lack of actual filler, there are moments when the
band can't quite stand on all four legs. The toy box piano on "The Killing Kind" turns
up the California Effect a tad too high, man: The second track's
nakedly anthemic, "You're my sick fixation!", busts this
band's usually subtle approach, and brings them that much closer
to mimicking their musical ancestry (in an unattractive way). Oh,
but that subtlety, when it-- conspiring with quality production--
fogs your ears with a handful of disparate layers, consisting mostly
of punishment, it makes you want to pet your punisher. Or you may
like cats, I guess, in which case you better just sing along.
-Zach Vowell, August 4th, 2004