Helium
Ends With And
(Matador Records)

Helium wasn’t just out to make music with a message – the band was out to craft damn good rock, built on a bedrock of principle.

On their post mortem Ends With And, a gathering of obscurities twenty years old, Helium sounds as raw and provocative as they remembered from a generation ago, in the hey-day of guitar infused indie rock. Gathered by bandleader Mary Timony, the collection of nineteen tracks (one of which is new) captures the type of noise pop and Sonic Youth influenced post punk that made the five piece a memorable act.

Their story is seldom told, but worth recollecting. Mary Lou Lord, later a prolific busker and singer-songwriter in the new folk rock movement, helped form a band named Chupa, but resisted using electronic instruments; Timony had no such trouble, so the band moved on with the latter and rebranded as Helium. As great as Lord is as a vocalist and one of a kind lyricist, it is hard to imagine this nexus of alt-rock energy with anyone other than Timony, rage filled and indignant, she brought a uniquely sensuous delivery to tough subjects like alienation and sexism.

Timony came fom Autoclave, a briefly prominent, chaotic girl punk band from Washington DC, who released a couple of recordings on Dischord. As front for Helium, her vocals, while maintaining an impassioned and even righteous quality, come off as loving and restrained. On tracks collected here like “XXX” and “Lucy”, the spry vocalist manages to sing in a bittersweet voice over top of the noisy guitars, words held up in a sense by the crashing instrumentation. Spins like “Lucy” feel precisely like the era they came from, more of a radio friendly Juliana Hatfield influence than the goddess of alt-girldom, Kim Gordon. But she gets to that down tuned, almost detached and desperate place too on songs like “Hole In The Ground” that are dominated by the big sluggish bass strums from Ash Bowie and layers of rattling guitar work.

A new song closes out Ends With And. “Golden Bridge” is described as the last song written and recorded by the band and it really does sound like an epitaph to guitar and noise worship. Built on eerie keys and hushed vocals, it stands as perhaps caution to what may have been if they persisted. Otherwise, the demo tracks are solid and worthy of collection, particularly “Superball” and “Ghost Car” which are newly released here.

Lasting all of four years, Helium was gone after a 1998 tour. Never an easy listen, Timony brought enough originality and spunk to make them rewarding.

If you missed on Helium on the way up, fair enough. Now’s your chance though.

Purchase the album here.

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