HELIUM The Magic City (Matador)

Helium are a Boston trio consisting of Mary Timony (guitar, vocals, Chamberlin, harpsichord), Ash Bowie (bass, Viceroy, keyboards) and sometime Polvo member Shawn Devlin (drums, drums and more drums). "The Magic City", their second album, has been produced by Mitch Easter, who has thankfully avoided the whittled-from-wood sound that has characterised his work with R.E.M. and Pavement, with added mandolin, violin and trumpet colourings, among other things, all present and correct here.

What do Helium sound like? Well, take the Sleater-Kinney album reviewed below as a starting point, precision-drilled post riot-grrl American guitar rock. That’s the first track, "Vibrations", just about covered. Then...well, things start to get strange. It’s as if these Americans are trying to relearn their counter-cultural heritage (i.e. the acid-folk-blues of circa 1967 Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane) using only the first few Fairport Convention albums and Genesis’ "Nursery Cryme" as source material: there’s lots of lyrics about dragons and devilry that Peter Gabriel probably churned out by the notebook-load back at Charterhouse, studio-trickery-heavy instrumentals like "Medieval People" and huge prog epics such as "The Revolution Of Hearts Pts. I And II".

"The Magic City" isn’t easy listening, in fact it’s often a sprawling psychedelic mess, but I have a sneaky feeling that that’s the point. Connoisseurs of the bizarre, look no further.