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Mary Timony Band - The Shapes We Make

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Artist: Mary Timony Band

Album: The Shapes We Make

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Review date: May. 4, 2007

It’s hard not to love Mary Timony. True to her name – Mary – she jazzes up stuff that’s tired and prosaic and makes it seem modern, clever, and the slightest bit twisted. The aegis she performs under, be it Helium, solo, or this new, eponymous “Band” incarnation, has minimal effect on Timony’s writing; her songs stay within pop length and never get weird. No guitar noodlings or noise jams here. Yet every time a new Mary Timony album comes out, it sounds fresh, and one can’t help but smile.

Perhaps this is because no one else could mix together Timony’s favorite influences (for the record, they’re medieval piano/harpsichord progressions and ‘70’s guitar rock), and have it make sense. The Shapes we Make seems thinner than Timony’s solo precursors because the balance in arrangement here skews toward classic rock. The best songs on those albums, like “I Fire Myself” from Mountains, kept to her husky alto, piano arpeggio, and snare; they are quite private. The acquisition of Devin Ocampo and Chad Molter here, both veterans of the D.C. rock scene (Smart Went Crazy, Faraquet) may have pushed the group in the straight-rock direction, though The Shapes We Make is also more similar to Helium than to Timony’s solo work.

Timony seems lonely on her true solo albums, which gives them power that this more public incarnation lacks. Her influence has been filtered an extra time here before reaching the consumer. “Window” has the same group of instruments as “I Fire Myself,” but lacks the older song’s melancholy. On the other hand, “Sharpshooter,” the album’s opener, evokes the rolling guitars and eerie offstage “oohs” and “ahs” of “I’m Free” from the Who’s Tommy (not to mention Helium’s “Superball”) in a manner that is most welcome.

Lyrics are one of Timony’s strengths, so rare these days. While she uses playful rhymes like Steve Malkmus, she packs them with meaning rather than (beautiful) nonsense. Here in “Pause/Off” she sings:

My reaction to your faction?
Go back to school and learn your fractions!
Get your laws off my body, mister.
Paws off, Supreme Court Misters.
Don’t mess around with me and my sisters.

It’s a succinct, Riot Grrl cheer from a tomboy who often makes one recall the blessed genderlessness and omnicompetence of childhood. Is that a contradiction?

By Josie Clowney

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