Helium Utilize Tact and Grace in Reissues of Their Discography
Noisy, chaotic, ruthless and restless — these are the words that describe musician Mary Timony and her ’90s rock band Helium. Remasters of their 1995 debut Dirt of Luck, sophomore effort The Magic City and No Guitars EP have just been released through Matador Records to phenomenal results. Timony took something from the past and brought it to life. The act has given listeners a chance to see Helium, reunited, on tour in June.
Helium blow other ’90s grunge rock staples, like Courtney Love’s band Hole, completely out of the water — even though they crossed that threshold years later. They took the genre and made it their own during a time when everyone was imitating the same grungy aesthetic. Shaping the scene for future artists, Timony’s aggression as a musician helped pave the way for certain elements of feminism, as well as the pop punk movement. If one isn’t a huge Bikini Kill fan, maybe Helium is a better fit. They are both brash, but Helium lean more towards a post-punk vibe, and feature some much softer tracks. For those who have yet to hear the band, their sound is something they might not expect. Timony successfully blended guitar distortion, solid lyricism and sheer frustration (and even formed several other project that have managed to stay relevant). Her group’s newest set of re-releases have withstood the test of time, having retained their edge two decades later.
Dirt of Luck is fast, angry and musically rigid. Many of its songs start off quick and waste no time jumping into their purpose, whether it’s clashing guitars or angry lyrics. “Pat’s Trick” sets the scene for the rest of the album, showing how Timony uses her monotone, stagnant voice as a force pushing against a boisterous pop punk vibe. By two minutes in, the song is full of thrashing guitar riffs. “Baby’s Goin’ Underground” is a fan favorite that uses the power of sheer static to bolster Timony’s voice, as well as her lyrics. “Honeycomb” is another track that merits a listen. It sees Helium dilute their typical punk sound in favor of pop. It’s sad, it’s slow and it comes together perfectly. “Medusa” is yet another strong number that takes Timony’s breathy whispers and turns them into a powerful noise rock anthem that talks of the kiss of death. This is then followed by the instrumental “Comet #9,” which is both eerie and enticing. Finally, “All the X’s Have Wings” showcases how aptly the band can jump from noise to a depressing ’90s emo ballad.
The Magic City and No Guitars re-releases feature a combined 20 tracks, and, by and large, they are far softer than what Dirt of Luck offered listeners. Although each track varies in tone, there is still a clear line that defines the evolution of Helium’s work. “Vibrations” is a beautiful piece of grunge-fueled art that endures for just under three minutes. Timony still utilizes guitar distortion, but she does it in a more subdued manner. The second track, “Leon’s Space Song,” almost sounds like a love song, yet it’s actually a simple breakup number. “Ocean of Wine” is even slower; “Aging Astronauts” is slower yet. Stripping the songs away from the chaotic punk sound allows Timony’s skills as a vocalist and lyricist to truly shine. “Lullaby of the Moths” sounds like it came off of a movie soundtrack. “Cosmic Rays” is perhaps the best of the slower tracks, while “Devil’s Tear” and “Clementine” are more robust and rugged. “Dragon #2” is sluggish for maybe 30 seconds, until the vigor of guitars sets in. The saddest song is probably “Sunday,” and that’s only because of the sound; however, the lyrics also mention depression shortly after the track begins. “The King of Electric Guitars” takes Timony’s voice and places it against strong guitar riffs, giving her lyrics support, while extending into a rugged form of pop punk.
Diehard fans of Helium are going to get what they came for with these re-issues: higher fidelity, old school rock music. On the other hand, newer listeners will get a sample of what a rock pioneer can really do. The overall nostalgia is quite real with this one. Helium have once again graced the world with their presence, now at a fancier volume.