The Austin Chronicle

Heart-Shaped Box Sets

Reviewed by Libby Webster, December 8, 2017, Music

Since the early Nineties, Mary Timony has quietly claimed an essential place in the rock canon. Before her current band Ex Hex, the guitarist/vocalist led Boston trio Helium from 1992-98. As the riot grrrl scene raged in the Pacific Northwest, Helium produced a strikingly cerebral and influential math-prog-grunge racket that still sounds urgent. It's the prickling embodiment of feminist rock.

Released in May, the reissue of Helium's short discography marks the first time the band's work has been available on vinyl in two decades. Offered either individually or bundled via the Matador merch store, the set includes a single LP of 1995 debut The Dirt of Luck, a double-LP combining 1997's The Magic City and the No Guitars EP, and double vinyl of new compilation Ends With And. While the brilliance of the complicated debut and weirder, harpsichord-riddled sophomore are exciting, Ends With And proves mandatory.

The latter culls unreleased demos, B-sides, rarities, and live performances, beginning with tracks from 1994 EP Pirate Prude. There's the sinister slow-burn of "OOO," while "Baby Vampire Made Me" and "Love $$$" thrash rickety grunge puncturing Timony's cooing vocals. "What Institution Are You From?" off 1995's Superball EP broods with a hypnotic beat and slinky bassline ahead of the brash, lo-fi "Puffin Stars" from 1994 comp Rock Stars Kill.

Helium's oldest studio work, from 1992, also appears. "Termite Tree" creeps in slowly, oscillating between Timony's clean, pop prowess on the chorus and a crawling verse. "Magic Box" plays spindly grunge-pop.

Both sound an eternity from previously unreleased closer "Golden Bridge," the last strange, spacey, distorted work the band recorded. Ends With And bridges the gap between Helium's first and final notes.


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