While Helium's full-length debut THE DIRT OF LUCK wandered around the deeper crevices and netherworlds of the human soul, its second album THE MAGIC CITY finds Mary Timony's trio exploring an external, mythical world. Wearing its J.R.R. Tolkien influence on its sleeve, THE MAGIC CITY revels in songs of the medieval world; lullabies, romance and dragons and other fanciful, mythical beasts are all food for Helium's bizarre, quasi-Renaissance twist on dissonant guitar-driven indie rock.
For the most part on THE MAGIC CITY, Timony's vocals float over songs that meander playfully through dramatically different movements--a particularly stunning example of this being the hypnotic, symphonic eight-minute "The Revolution of Hearts." "Leon's Space Song" whirls around the maypole, setting raging, insistent yet traditional violins against ultra-modern lyrics and a timeless melody. While Timony has an enticing and unique voice, the most spellbinding track of all, the organ driven instrumental "Medieval People," abandons vocals entirely for a dervish-like intensity.
Formed in 1991 in Boston, Helium was the indie rock stomping ground for the wonderfully perverse mind of Mary Timony, where psychosexuality met a mythological universe over a feast of distorted melody. A trio basking in contradictions, Helium's compositions married the grimy to the orchestral, the grim to the gleefully buoyant, as Timony delicately (yet forcefully) delivered twisted songs about vampires, angels, demons, dragons, and whatever other apparitions caught her fancy. After two college radio chart-topping full-lengths and three EPs on Matador, the trio called it quits at the end of the 1990s, with Timony tumbling into a prolific solo career.
Rolling Stone (10/16/97, p.110) - 3 Stars (out of 5) - "...Features the band's usual ragged arrangements and Mary Timony's trademark breathy vocals, but the album is also imbued with a rainbow of otherworldly keyboards and sprawling rhythms that recall space explorers like Can and Nektar...
Spin (11/97, pp.149-150) - 8 (out of 10) - "...Timony's guitar work is decidely more forceful, carefully straddling New Wave weirdness and feel-good '70s-rock soloing. Keyboards color ever track, but unlike a lot of bands trying to `do' electronica, Helium look backward, using harpsichords, Fender Rhodes, and Moog..."
Entertainment Weekly (9/12/97, p.138) - "This sophomore effort finds the Boston trio replacing the lurching venom of its prior work with gentler art-pop approach that meshes nicely with singer/guitarist Mary Timony's impressionistically revealing lyrics..." - Rating: A-
Magnet (11-12/97, p.68) - "...boasts one of Mitch Easter's best production jobs in a while, and Timony, bassmeister Ash Bowie and drummer Shawn Devlin are all near the top of their game..."
Musician (11/97, p.87) - "...Helium has added all manner of deft sonic touches to these fourteen tracks....At its best, this album is intoxicating....an excellent reminder...of what can be achieved when you don't automatically step on the overdrive."