For my money Helium are entirely capable of being the most creative pop band in Boston, or at least the one doing the most to stretch the limits of the pop format. And they may be the band who’ve progressed the most as well. Their new EP, No Guitars (Matador), is as different from their album The Dirt of Luck (my pick for the best local album of ’95) as that CD was from the tense guitar jams of their early club shows.
Produced by the band with pop icon Mitch Easter, No Guitars — which in fact has more guitars and fewer keyboards than last time — is a hauntingly lovely set drenched in mystery and abstraction. No longer driven by rage the way she was in the early days, singer/guitarist Mary Timony has developed a more ghostly style of singing — which is appropriate, because the six tracks here form a musical ghost story of sorts. The opening “Silver Strings” is the closest thing to a straight-ahead pop tune, with a soft-then-loud structure, extra layers of guitar from Easter, and a fine hook for Timony to wrap herself around. The chorus could almost come from a Saturday-night fun song, but they’ve got something more sinister in mind: “We’re going out with our guitars/ I play the radio, baby, in the Devil’s car/And we’re going out and we’ll never come back.” Suffice to say that she isn’t just driving to Somerville.
That mood is maintained through the disc, which clings less to pop structures and includes a Renaissance-styled instrumental (“13 Bees,” a piano/recorder duet) and a 90-second rocker (“The King of Electric Guitars,” driven by Shawn King Devlin’s military drums). The lengthy finale, “Riddle of the Chamberlin,” takes a swing from skewed pop to tape-looped strangeness (think of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”), before resolving into a pop hook that fades out just as quickly, leaving you hanging until the band’s full-length album comes out in August.
Originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix, April 24th, 1997, By Brett Milano
HELIUM-THE MAGIC CITY
Mary is Joni Mitchell with all the sex and snarl jutting out in uneven awkward places. She leaves bruises and juice all over this record. Using the structure and personae of minstrel and medieval hooks and schoolyard naaan-na-naaas, Mary has all the lily pads she needs to walk across to waiting unicorns, rainbows, witches, space flowers, and girl-fingered power. Ash and Shawn are dreams. I must say I like the Dirt of Luck better, I listened to it more and still play it now. I like less personae, personally, and especially right now in my life. I’m listening to more direct, straight stuff. But I do think this is the bravest record Matador released in 1997.ps- I’m glaring at a visual of Richard (Versus) in my head right now because I’m tired and he waited until the last minute to write this review and then, with one longuuuuuuhhhhhh on his part, I quickly understood that he wasn’t going to write a damn thing. He loves, loves this record by the way.
By Connie Chickfactor Number Eleven Fall 97
HELIUM-THE MAGIC CITY
Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz about behind this new Helium album, how it’s a medieval fairy tale in the vein of Gentle Giant (I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that nugget of reference in the press kit -as if that means anything to anyone outside the progressive rock community) and French art-rock Art Zoyd? Both comparisons are pretty useless to folks familiar with those bands. I mean, id you’re gonna throw in a French band as a reference point, Standy By era Heldon would be a more accurate place to start. And really, so would the more experimental folk-rock and folk-psych re-issues coming out on the Korean Si-Wan label, or even the Italian progressives of the early 70s-these are more in tune with the hazy weirdness of this record than Gentle Giant. Still, such comparisons do shed light on the fact that Mary Timony and Company are indeed exploring the proggy backwaters of experimental music. The lyrics no longer rage cryptically, but center another fantastic realms and lovelorn heroines. Despite an impressive arsenal of vintage analogue synths, this album still heads closer to the mainstream of underground rock than to mid-70s symphonic progressive. Which is fine by me. I’d rather have the band skim the cream from both cups than fall into a bottomless well of nostalgia. Helium haven’t struck a perfect winner with this one, but they’re well on their way.
By Greg Weeks, The Big Takeover Issue Number 41
It seems like everyone has gone solo, lately some with startling success, some with startling boredom. Mary Timony, former avatar of Helium, has created a lovely album of thrilling quiet rock songs and surprisingly intricate, but earthy, progressive pieces. Mountains starts with “Dungeon Dance,” a sad, but pleasant musical song that captures some of the musical qualities of a beginner piano collection, yet has overtones of the medieval mysticism. On the topic of dragons, Timony notes “it’s not like I belong to some weird society of Dungeons and Dragons people. Then again, it is fun to be influenced by weird people and to draw from their weirdness.” Later on in the album, “13 Bees” follows a similar simplicity. Timony manages to use simple rhythms and themes about bees flying of leaves, dying, being born and afraid in a way that prophetic, symbolic ˆ in the long tradition of fable telling. Most of her pieces explore a realm slightly new to Timony. Unlike the typical indie-rocker, Timony spent time at Boston University studying classical music. She felt frustrated, however, with classical music: its rigor sand strained intricacies. “I was obsessed with the idea that easy music was better, that complicated music had no soul. Helium’s early music came from wanting to keep things basic. I’d hit the guitar a lot, because I was sick of learning how to play it. But the music is getting more complicated now and I’m finding my training to be a big help.”
Many of her songs explore history and thus capture the complexities of containing it all (think of the burden of the Mona Lisa?). Songs such as “1542” and “RiderA Stormy Sea” are as varied as all of time, borrowing from religious music and art rock. “Rider on a Stormy Sea” could easily be a single, as its tempo often changes along with its catchy riffs and dazzling vocals. Songs like “The Bell” and “The Golden Fruit, “songs which combine many instruments and harder elements are experiments with the sound similar to The Cranes. The album is a direct relative of the work of Tori Amos. But I say this with apprehension, as I know some of Amos‚ so-called “flaws” are not issues with Mountains. The superficial comparisons are apparent: the piano, the magical themes, harpsichord, female lead. And, according to The Village Voice’s Terri Sutton, like Amos, “why Mary Timony wouldn’t fit in at Lilith Fair: Because she says it straight up “the Queen of Fire wants to fuck unicorns.” Mary Timony covers a lot of ground that Amos treads upon, but perhaps in ways that are more familiar to most of us.
˜ Laurie Anne Agnese
from the Rutgers University Student newspaper issue published 4/25/00
Obviously, Mary (ex-Autoclave) is a cool girl with an impeccable voice. Lyrically she’s improved since “American Jean”—listen to this: “give me eyes like yours/so I can cry like you do/make me rude/make me a brute,” then she sings “I hate looking pretty” with such a sneer the word pretty sounds anything but. And the songs rock too, especially when they recall GNR, like the start of “Wanna be a Vampire too, baby”. I don’t know if Helium got louder (than the first single) cause Mary got self-conscious and wanted to bury her vocals or just because, but I dig it. “I’ll get you, I mean it” is an on-target quip about that snoggable boy who refuses to exit your psyche: “you better catch me or I’ll kill you.” Sinister guitars, melodies that make my head sway lazily, and words that make me strain to hear equals cozily disturbing pop that rocks.
By Gail, Chickfactor #5 , winter 94
[uh, Clarissa dear, I reviewed this in CF5-gail] Rock music as a means of inducing synaesthesia is a very new idea. It’s amazing that the first real attempt at it work sso well. If you have finished listening to this and not had the multisensory hallucinations that go with it, it wasn’t loud enough. Breathe deep and it won’t hurt you. It islike being face-down on a scary mattress in Amsterdam, hot at twilight. Somebody is drawing chocolate Popsicle in a line down your back. Let the hollowness of all the noises guide you, and the hollow calliope sound at the end will lead you out.
By Clarissa Chickfactor #6 summer 94
Sometimes I get nuts over bands, and right now I’m really crazy over Helium. It’s rather strange, because when my friend played Helium for me a few months ago, I didn’t really like it. But after seeing them play a few times, I believe they’ve totally won me over. Imagine a beefed up soundtrack for that old Nintendo game Castlevania. Everything about this is great. The spooky guitars, the vocals, the arrangements, the packaging, and the overall character. “XXX” and “Love $$” are amazingly crafted songs. And I love the and the is amazing and you get the picture. Dig It! Yeah! Huh.
By Andrew from Trash Heap #3
Helium — “Hole in the Ground/Lucy” [Pop Narcotic]
Color this mondo… the a-side could be shoegazer music at the beginning if Mary Timony’s guitar weren’t so mean and stingy, and then it turns into a sick approximation of My Bloody Metallica… shoegazer metal? What a scary concept. “Lucy” starts off with weird rumbling noises and soon turns into a languid bassline and a guitar that Kevin Shields could have engineered, only minus the avalanche of tremolo action… and then Mary Timony comes in with the snotty observation that “Lucy says boredom is the biggest word she’s ever heard.” Much wailing ensues. Hypnotic. Entrancing. Totally (I’m gonna say it, brace yourself) godlike. I wanna sleep at the foot of Mary Timony’s bed. Does this mean you should own it? Sure….
Review from Dead Angel Number Five
Helium-Hole in the Ground/Lucy [Pop Narcotic]
Well, this is probably my favorite 7″ right now. The songs are amazingly well written and arranged. Mary Timony has one of the most unique voices that I’ve heard. Sweet but not sappy and the strength of Hulk Hogan on crack. “Lucy” is my favorite Helium songÖit starts off with a pretty, understated melody and then takes off like a rocket with Mary’s stellar vocals and thick guitar riffs. It’s like getting smashed in the head with a bat, or crashing into a brick wall at full speed, but in a nice, sweet way. Ha! My 7″ of the year.
By Andrew from Trash Heap #3
Helium-“Hole in the Ground/Lucy” [Pop Narcotic]
Simply great. They recorded their first single when they’d been together for just a few weeks (scary now how good that was) so this is the result of them being more of a band and the difference is a bit more attention to detail. Check out “Lucy” for some really cool effects in the style department. The big apple for me though, still has to bethe lyrical radiance. Not too many bands feature the vocal as clearly as does Helium. Even when she’s just singing non-words in a chorus (which happens in both songs, hello!), Mary roars truer than most. Also another great looking Pop Narcotic send up. Remember fans, packaging is part of the fun too!
By Trey FOR PAPER AIRPLANE PILOTS #2 New Year’s 1994
all reprinted without permission. sorry.
The lead singer/guitarist of helium gets renaissance faire on our ass, and eschews ye olde poste punke for angular, mystical, keyboard-driven prog rock. it makes us wonder: could female rush fans exist after all?
From the May 2000 issue of Details, in the “Don’t Miss” Section
Timony is the witchy woman behind Boston’s Helium; the group’s last record Magic City sounded as if it was dreamed up between back-to-back Magic: The Gathering fantasy-game sessions. Mountains likely owes its genesis to similar inspirations, or maybe those priceline.com ads with William Shatner came to bear on it.
Taken from VH1’s reviews online
From Twin Cities’ City Search
The undeniably sweet voice behind the Boston-based indie rock trio Helium, Mary Timony, once sang about witches, dragons and unicorns on Helium’s much acclaimed 1997 “The Magic City.” Fantasy has crept in and out Timony’s imagery—revealing the playful and imaginative inner child behind her lyrics and unusual guitar bliss. But,steps into her solo career, first conquering a bit of stage-fright, to release debut “Mountains,” (which was partly recorded in Chicago) Timony surprisingly earned the Beavis and Butt-Head seal of approval, “This chick is cool!” (which she says was painful to watch). But, unlike one-time Matador labelmate Liz Phair, she does not play the role of the angry-grrrly piper. She prefers things ethereal and often acoustic, rendering harmonies with surrealist guitar, piano, harpsichord and viola. Locals pop prince and princess Sean Na Na and Jan open. —Lauren Drell
From Twin Cities’ City Search
Mary Timony of the band Helium is back, striking out with a solo album, Mountains, that may be considered her most comprehensive work since Helium’s last record, 1997’s the Magic City . In fact, perhaps that title would be more apt for this album, as each song is so rooted in its own specific, fantastical geography [budding cartographers and Tolkien fans, take note]. The songs on this record are darker, more emotionally intense than those of the Magic City. There are no catchy tunes on this album, nothing you’ll have the urge to belt out to your co-workers or rage to in your room, yet by no means are these songs feeble. Timony pulls your head underwater and doesn’t let it up until she’s through. Beware of the undertow.
from the Spring 2000 Bust #14 issue
MARY TIMONY Mountains – Matador Mary Timony’s solo debut continues in the vein of Helium’s 1997 album The Magic City, which may have trafficked a little too much in medieval loopiness for most. But if you’re open to an album that – using not much more than an old piano, her trademark off-kilter guitar playing, strings and the occasional wash of vintage synths – approximates the sound of theVelvet Underground waiting not for the man but for the Lord Of The Ring, then Mountains is for you. The best track is “I Fire Myself,” in which Timony proves herself again to be one of the kookiest, most assured rock-and-rollers around. Who else can sing melodramatic Opheliaisms such as “I throw myself in a watery grave” and “Pilgrims beside me just talk, talk, talk” but come off sounding like some knowing, smart-ass new wave siren?
From the pages of the CMJ New Music Report, Issue: 656 – Mar 6, 2000
“There’s too much darkness inside of me,” indie-rock siren Mary Timony intones on “The Dungeon Dance”, a track from her solo album, Mountains . Timony first made noise leading the Boston band Helium; on her foray alone, her detached, baby-doll voice broods like a caged bird that can’t live without its prison. Over Pixies-ish guitar jags and haunting strings, she draws the listener into sonically weaving, dimly lit backstreets.
From Best of the Month in Elle Magazine, December or January 1999/2000 issue.
Mary Timony, Mountains (Matador). At first this sounded like a letdown from the fuller soundscapes on the last Helium release, The Magic City. But if anything, Timony’s gotten deeper into the imagery that fueled that album; these ghosts and dragons seem to come from the world she actually lives in. For all their ethereal beauty, the songs here have no want of dark mystery between the lines.
Taken from the Boston Phoenix’s Cellar’s Starlight-Top Picks of the Year (2000) By Brett Milano
The rainbows, the unicorns, the fascination with all things mystical — think of Timony as indieville’s answer to Stevie Nicks, without the flowing scarves and witchy hair. On her debut solo outing, the enchanting Helium singer gets all magical about dungeons and dragons. She never breaks out of the monotonous tone that follows her through this stroll of neverland, and that certainly weighs down this bulky set of songs. But she keeps the theatrics to a minimum, something unfathomable to coven sister Nicks.
from the Illinois Entertainer
by Michael Jolly
Mary Timony, the talented leader of the indie rock trio Helium, continues her increasingly personal musical journey with the solo album, Mountains. After Helium’s exemplary debut effort, The Dirt of Luck, Timony expanded a tough girl lyrical stance to include a more obtuse world of dragons and unicorns, among other things. The next album, 1997’s The Magic City, was suitably infused with prog rock values and folky, medieval textures.
All of the tracks on the new record could certainly pass for Helium tunes, but what gives these songs their own identity is the sparse, insular sound marked by keyboards and drum machines. But for the most part, Mountains finds Timony traversing the same musical and lyrical territory as The Magic City. She even appropriates the stock traditional folk line “As I rode out one winter’s day” in “The Golden Fruit.”
The album begins with “Dungeon Dance” featuring Timony accompanied only by melodramatic piano, but the album soon expands to include muscular and complex rock songs like “Poison Moon” and “The Bell.” That some of these songs are starting to sound a bit too familiar suggests that it might be time for Timony to pick up a few more musical tricks. Still, this is fascinating stuff. Timony’s current solo tour makes a stop at the Troubadour on Monday, May 15. Hopefully, the live setting will give her an opportunity to revisit some Helium favorites and show off her masterful guitar playing.
From Entertainment Today, 5/12/00, Heavy Rotation