Oh, those shoe-gazers — their shuffling feet, slow-strumming fingers, and monotone vocals. They’re thoughtful and sensitive and melodic all at once. It’s an alternative masculinity — or something. Whatever those indie kids have, it works. The shag look and warm, fuzzy guitars seem to be the formula for indie rock success. There have been worse trends. I certainly don’t long for the days when spandex and teased hair brought celebrity.
Yes, if you’re among the musically literate, you know that the understated-and-therefore-all-the-more-artistic artists are on top in the indie music scene. Quite frankly, they’re getting dull. A little emotion never hurt anyone. And everyone knows those guys are only in the band to get laid. Hair in the eyes equals sensitive sex appeal.
So as long as all of that baggage is upfront, we can move on. Meow Meow formed in Los Angeles in 1998 as a collaboration between Kirk Hellie and Christopher O’Brien. However, due to other musical side projects and tours, the duo didn’t officially release anything as a band until drummer, Norm Block, and bassist Michael Orendy joined up. The band then released this full-length debut, Snow Gas Bones. California label Devil in the Woods put out the record, and even though Meow Meow fits many of the indie rock/pop stereotypes, the band is a solid addition to the Devil in the Woods roster. And Snow Gas Bones is a respectable debut.
The Beach Boys were a great band and Meow Meow recognizes this in most of the songs on this record. In fact, mix those sunny California harmonies with various and sundry guitar blips, shrieks and moans, and that’s Snow Gas Bones in summation. “Cracked” opens the album, with ambient guitar work meant to sound like someone searching for the correct radio frequency to get the band to come in clearly. Hellie wails on this guitar with controlled abandon — the result is surprisingly melodic noise.
“Sick Fixaction” is pure pop with cheery “Oooo Oooo Oooooos” in the background and an easy beat. The lyrics are slightly darker, though, which makes the track more overcast than sunny, if we’re going with the weather metaphor. “It’s time to kill the cool kid / Pull the plug on him and say goodnight / Tune into a new vibration / ‘Cause you’re my sick fixation”.
“Amaurosis” starts out melancholy and subdued with sad acoustic strumming and morose lyrics about a girl who’s “invisible to all the world.” However, about two-and-a-half minutes into the track, the song wakes up and guitars start shrieking. The contrast is shocking and dramatic, making the otherwise bland track dynamic and varied.
Interestingly enough, “Finis” comes in the middle of the album. The seven-and-a-half-minute epic sounds like it belongs at the end as well. The track proceeds at an unhurried pace, the languid organ peppered with eerie, horror movie sounds. The song nearly put me to sleep — but in that warm, safe kind of way.
Oddly enough the album doesn’t end after this song, and instead picks up with “All I Ever Got”, another straightforward pop tune with a “surf’s up” beat. “Disaffected” is the closest Meow Meow gets to a rock song, with commanding rhythms, and distorted guitars, keys, and vocals. This song belongs in New York City in some grungy club with kids in tight jeans swaggering across the stage.
Meow Meow may be a part of a tired genre. Yet with Snow Gas Bones, the band succeeds in sounding fresh. We’ve heard the chords and the noises before, but this interpretation is instantly enjoyable.