PRINT October 1997



On “Magic Box,” HELIUM’s third single, singer/guitarist Mary Timony introduced us to an enchanted space under her bed where she kept “trees, a river, and an old man’s head.” Intoxicatingly creepy, her sinister-sweet Heavenly Creatures voice was unsettling yet inviting, more like Blue Velvet than Halloween. Hints of her witchy-woman persona surfaced on subsequent releases (1994’s Pirate Prude EP and ’95’s The Dirt of Luck), even as she moved from casting spells to deconstructing her own psyche and songs.

Thankfully, with The Magic City, Timony has climbed back under that bed, opened her black bag of tricks, and let her imagination run, unbridled, through a mythical land of dragons and unicorns, strange organic vibrations, haunting melodies, tautly tuneful guitars, and even a tinkling harpsichord. More than ever her band—bassist Ash Bowie and drummer Shawn Devlin—are with her in body and spirit: ascending the spiraling Philip Glass–style guitar riffs of “Mach 4” with tom-tom beats and bent bass notes, cruising the astral plane with the sleek new-wave groove of “Leon’s Space Song,” calming the dragons by the river with quiet, measured steps in “Soft Children.” If there’s an allegory hidden in the fantasies of The Magic City, I haven’t found it. Sometimes a magic box is just a magic box.

Matt Ashare