by Annie Fell (@zitremedies)
Though the Sylvia Plath-obsessed phase of my life ended more than half a decade ago, certain lines from The Bell Jar still pop into my head like song lyrics that have been irreversibly hard wired into my brain. One such line is from a moment near the beginning of the novel, in which Plath’s narrator, Esther, says of her friend Doreen: “Everything she said was like a secret voice speaking straight out of my own bones.” The line’s simplicity makes it the perfect automatic response to feeling like I relate to someone, deeply and poetically. Listening to Ends With And, the 2xLP, 19 song singles and rarities compilation recently released by Helium, I couldn’t help but turn this line over in my mind again and again.
For decades now, Helium’s frontwoman, Mary Timony, has been a cult hero for the weird girls who are a little too reserved to fully relate to the wilder women of rock like Courtney Love, but Ends With And finally showcases her as the iconic frontwoman she rightfully is. As a performer, Timony always seemed to be fighting her shyness, especially in Helium’s more suggestive songs, like “XXX” and “Pat’s Trick,” almost as if she was too modest for her own liberation. Like Plath, Timony represents the girls who have a something brewing beneath their surface, but haven’t fully figured out what it is yet, let alone how to confidently embrace it. Timony’s performance is the highlight of the early recordings featured on the compilation, solidifying her personality as a—if not the—key element of the band.
Of the album, Timony stated, “Compiling Ends With And has been like stumbling upon a long forgotten time capsule and trying to put the pieces in order.” Though it opens with relatively well-known songs “XXX” and “Baby Vampire Made Me,” their greatest hits, like “Pat’s Trick,” are excluded. The two standout tracks are “Lucy” and “Termite Tree,” both b-sides from previously released singles. The former is a six and a half minute tour de force that climaxes with Timony displaying a rare confidence, singing “Hoooooo, I wanna be just like yoooooou” straight from her gut. The latter features perhaps the catchiest hook and the most traditional song structure in Helium’s history.
Some of the oldest tracks on the album, “Lucy” and “Termite Tree” in particular, are less technical in their composition, pushing Timony’s lyrics and vocal performance to center stage. Those tracks could easily sound like any other band on Matador’s mid-‘90s roster, but it’s Timony herself who sets them apart. The tracks compiled are exemplary of her intense and dynamic personality as a performer. Song to song, she can shift from a bellowed “Woo hoo hooooo”-ing to an eerily calm talk-sing in which she proclaims “I’m a witch, a hag, a crone” (on “I Am A Witch,” naturally).
Mary Timony is a smart woman who feels her feelings deeply, not in a loud and brash way like the aforementioned Love or many of her other contemporaries, but in a way that is impossible to hide no matter how badly she wants to blend in. In 2002, the Village Voice referred to her as “Sylvia Plath in Doc Martens.” As cliche as it is to describe a female musician who broke out in the ‘90s as someone else but “in Doc Martens,” the comparison stands; Timony and Plath captured the hearts of witchy girls who are perhaps too smart (or, at least, too lacking in serotonin) to ever be fully happy. Ends With And is a celebration of the witchiest girl, and it is long overdue.