Lighter Than Air

On its new long-player, Helium gets ethereal.

Helium's earnest embrace of primitive electronica on Magic is contagious: Instead of provoking deprecating snickers, passages as programmed as Pong arouse a curious nostalgia for music long deemed unsalvageable. But at the same time, the band retains its standard guitar-bass-drums lineup, supplementing it with trumpet and violin. "'Lullaby of the Moths' is one of the songs where violins are such an important part," Timony points out. "I actually wrote out the part for two violins, and then we got this guy, and he came and played it. It was kind of ridiculous, because he was a professional and I had made a lot of mistakes--but I did write the music out. It was probably one of the most fulfilling parts of the whole recording process for me." The song also features a "viceroy," which Timony describes as "Ash's made-up instrument. It's like a guitar with all the strings tuned to the same note that he plays with a drumstick."

The lyrics on "Lullaby" and other Magic numbers are a far cry from those found on Helium's previous efforts. The majority of the cuts have prog-friendly settings, such as the fabled Middle Ages or outer space, because, Timony says, "it's just easier to make things up. To make up a completely imaginary scenario is much easier than writing about reality."

Moreover, tunes about castles, dragons and rainbows provided Timony with a nice break from the raw gender-conflict issues that permeated prior releases. "I thought that I was sort of empowering myself by speaking about those sort of things before," she says. "But somewhere along the line I felt that it was not empowering anymore, because of people misunderstanding me--especially in interviews. It never happened with women, but many times I had done hurried interviews with guys and talked about those kinds of things, and then I would read the article, and it was so screwed up. I sounded like this freak--crazy, angry. The worst one was in Minneapolis; I did this really hurried interview on the phone, and I then read the article, and it was so fucked up. It was like, 'Mary Timony thinks she's going to empower herself by going crazy.' I thought, 'Oh, my God, this is so wrong.' So then I decided that I wasn't going to talk about it anymore--because it's useless if it's not being portrayed right.

"I don't want the band to be defined that way anymore," she goes on. "I don't like Joni Mitchell because she's a feminist. I like her because she's a female and because she makes music I can relate to because I'm a female."

By the same token, Timony's current subject matter can't entirely prevent misinterpretations. "I was born of the Devil's victory/But I'm hoping that love will set us free," a couplet from "Revolution of Hearts," seems to allude to Eve's dilemmas, but Timony claims that it actually refers to "coming out of a depression. I was thinking more of that song being totally genderless and being like this spirit in the sky that was coming out of darkness and depression. And love was a religious sort of spiritual love, not like a relationship type of thing."

Timony concedes that her old self resurfaces at least once on Helium's latest--but with a twist. "'Lady of the Fire' is a good old feminist song," she says. "It's about becoming this monster and liberating yourself out of the box you've been pushed into by letting your rage out." But once the heroine is free, her first priority is to "make love to a unicorn." Which, after listening to The Magic City, may strike many listeners as quite an enticing prospect.

Helium, with Cornershop and Syrup USA. 9 p.m. Monday, November 3, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $8.50, 443-3399 or 830-

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