Helms Alee is Almost Famous

Music journalists hate it when our friends become successful.

The central conflict in Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's cinematic paean to the passion that drives music fans to become music journalists, isn't simply whether or not the young protagonist gets his first story published in Rolling Stone. Under the jaded mentorship of Lester Bangs, the idealistic William Miller must grapple with the philosophical issue of whether writers can be friends with their subjects without compromising the integrity of their prose.On the surface, Bangs' assertion that camaraderie with guitar players leads to ethically bankrupt journalism feels perfectly sound. I doubt that Walter Cronkite would have gotten very far reporting on Watergate if Nixon had been his weekend drinking buddy. However, as much as I love what I do, writing about music or pop culture isn't on the same level as, say, Frontline, and it presents an entirely different set of ethical quandaries and occupational hazards.The overwhelming majority of my friends are musicians, and it's been that way for the better part of a decade. The boys in the Cops are practically my brothers, my best friend fronts the Heavy Hearts, and Visqueen leader Rachel Flotard was one of my biggest sources of comfort when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago (her father was battling the same disease at the time, a fight he sadly lost earlier this year). These all also happen to be artists whose work I admire greatly, but I generally refrain from writing anything critical about them—positive or negative—and just stick to the facts when I play their records on my radio show or mention them in this column. For all practical purposes, they actually get PR punishment for being my friends: I wrote one feature on Visqueen several years ago for another publication, but that was before Flotard and I were close, and I guarantee you'll never see a Cops profile with my byline on it.The problem I run into isn't so much that my friends turn into artists, but that artists end up turning into my friends. I decided recently that I might have to stop writing about acrobatic Israeli rockers Monotonix, since they have become so dear to me after staying with me almost half-a-dozen times on tour stops over the past two years. I restricted my involvement in their recent visit to Seattle to helping them set up an all-ages matinee show at the Sunset last Sunday, after their Saturday show at the Comet sold out. They certainly are a fun band to write about, but it was even more satisfying to see them temporarily take over Ballard Avenue, climbing on street signs, drumming in the streets, and generally blowing the minds of both the kids and adults in attendance and the stunned passersby who wondered what the hell was going on.One local band that I'm going to try to avoid getting tight with as long as possible is definitely Helms Alee. The instant I heard their new album Night Terror (released on Hydra Head Records in August), I became a huge fan, and their set at King Cobra last Saturday sealed the deal. It's not easy to ascertain what makes a budding trio look and sound as though they're already far too big for a small stage, but whatever that magical element is, Helms Alee have it in spades. Raw-throated singer-guitarist Ben Verellen drops avalanches of overwhelming power chords and artful solos while trading vocal duties with honey-voiced bassist Dana James and dynamo drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis, in a dramatic loud-quiet-loud dance that will inevitably lead to an epidemic of Pixies comparisons, but should logically lead to competition with the Moondoggies for the distinction of releasing the most promising local debut recording of 2008. That jump to the big stage is already on the horizon; for their next show, they'll open for Minus the Bear and Annuals at the Showbox on Saturday, Nov. 22.Lastly, in the department of unfortunate and wildly premature breakups, it looks as though local band the Pleasureboaters have already called it a day. As of press time, neither the band nor their label Don't Stop Believin' Records had returned requests for comment on the rumors, but multiple sources and some cryptic phrasing on their MySpace page ("Don't call it a hiatus") seem to indicate that the band has dissolved in the wake of frontman Ricky Claudon's sudden departure to New York.rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

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