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The Haul: Helium's "Pat's Trick" b/w "Ghost Car"

Helium's 'Pat's Trick' b/w 'Ghost Car'

I picked up a used copy of Helium’s 7” for “Pat’s Trick” at Reckless Records and got a booby prize in the sleeve: the sales slip from the previous owner’s original purchase of the single. Along with the Helium find, the haul included two additional singles, each priced at $3.49: one from the space-rock band Flying Saucer Attack (recently recalled by Scott Tennent of Pretty Goes with Pretty) and one from Grenadine (a Simple Machines band featuring Tsunami’s Jenny Toomey and Unrest’s Mark Robinson playing 1920s-style ballads). Sadly, the slip didn’t include any further details, like the store name, the specific singles purchased, the date of sale, or the physical singles for Flying Saucer Attack and Grenadine, so my walk down someone else’s memory lane is cut short.

If you need a refresher on Helium, here goes: Washington, DC expatriate Mary Timony trekked up to Boston for college, leaving behind Dischord’s Autoclave, and replaced Mary Lou Lord in the fledging Helium. I can’t imagine Helium without Timony’s vocals, which alternate between airy wisps and husky monotones, let alone the medieval melodies of her guitar work and the simultaneously inviting/dismissing lyrics. They released two full-lengths, 1995’s fuzzed-out The Dirt of Luck and 1997’s prog-rock-inclined The Magic City, which rank among my favorite Matador Records releases, along with a few essential EPs (Pirate Prude, No Guitars, and the CD5 Superball+, which offers the superb “What Institution Are You From?” [live video link!]). Polvo’s Ash Bowie (Timony’s then-boyfriend) joined the group on bass prior to The Dirt of Luck, and there’s some bleed-through from that group’s off-kilter melodic approach. Helium split up following The Magic City, leaving Timony to an excellent solo career and now Wild Flag, but as you can tell from my purchase of a seventeen-year-old single (cue depression), the original documents hold up.

A-side “Pat’s Trick” is the lead track from The Dirt of Luck, and an excellent intro to the record’s strengths. It made an appearance on Beavis & Butthead, on which the guys commented on double-meanings and the small size of Timony’s nostrils, following up a showing of Helium’s “XXX” video which provided an ample dosage of zingers (“Hey Butthead, I think the TV’s on slow,” “I think this chick just, like, woke up or something,” “She probably doesn’t really start rocking until later,” “Check it out her guitar’s broken”).

The flip side offers the aptly titled “Ghost Car,” a haunting piano ballad muses how “What I’ve got can make you stop this ride to hell so I can get off” and closes with a muted warning to “Stop this car before it goes too far.” It’s an intriguing diversion, but fits better as a b-side than a missing piece of The Dirt of Luck.

From what I can tell, Helium’s b-sides aren’t available digitally, so I can pass along this compilation of b-sides and non-album tracks with more excitement than guilt. Highlights include early single “Lucy” (which appeared on the bonus disc of What’s Up Matador), an alternate take of “Superball” with Joan Wasser from the Dambuilders (who also joined Timony in Mind Science of the Mind, a short-lived side band fronted by Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think), and the aforementioned “What Institution Are You From.” Godspeed to the Soulseek user who initially compiled this material.