One of the finest — and most unpredictable — bands of the '90s, Helium was defined by leader Mary Timony's experimental guitar playing and alternately tough and vulnerable vocals. The handful of albums and EPs the band released during its five years of existence combined feminist lyrics with music that spanned searing rock to delicate, prog-influenced sounds that inspired future generations of indie rockers.
Timony, a classically trained guitarist who had played with Washington, D.C. experimentalists Autoclave, moved to Boston in the early '90s to study English Literature at Boston University. In the summer of 1992, she replaced Mary Lou Lord as the singer of the band that former Dumptruck drummer Shawn King Devlin and bassist Brian Dunton had formed with Jason Hatfield, who left shortly after Timony joined. Helium introduced their elliptical yet hard-hitting sound in 1993 with a pair of 7"s, The American Jean and Hole in the Ground. They followed it with 1994's Pirate Prude EP, which dug deeper into their combination of feminist themes and snarling guitars.
After the EP's release, Polvo guitarist Ash Bowie replaced Dunton on bass, joining Helium in time to play on the band's first full-length, 1995's The Dirt of Luck. Incorporating influences as far flung as shoegaze and horror movie music, the album comprised some of the band's most accessible music. Later that year, the keyboard-heavy Superball EP reflected Helium's ever-changing sound. Synths and mystical themes featured even more prominently on 1997's No Guitars EP and the following year's Mitch Easter-produced full-length The Magic City. Following the U.S. tour in support of the album, Helium disbanded.
In the 2000s, Timony launched a solo career that ranged from the Magic City-esque Mountains (2000) and Golden Dove (2002) to more rock-oriented albums like 2005's Ex Hex (which was released by Autoclave's label, Lookout Records) and 2007's The Shapes We Make. After a brief stint in the band Soft Power, she joined Wild Flag, which also included Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss and the Minders' Rebecca Cole as members; they released their self-titled album in 2011 and disbanded in 2013. Timony then formed the garage rock- and power pop-inspired outfit Ex Hex with Fire Tapes bassist Betsy Wright and the Aquarium drummer Laura Harris. The band released its debut album Rips in 2014. In 2017, Helium's albums were reissued, and many songs from the band's singles and EPs — as well as demos and unreleased tracks — were included on the compilation Ends with And. ~ Heather Phares