Helmet: Meantime (Interscope, 1992)
All Time Albums Series
How did I get to know the band Helmet?
Strap in, it's a bit of a story (bad Helmet joke for any fans).
I used to do road trips a lot in my early adulthood, usually associated with debate.
Usually, during the summers, I would spend most of the summer teaching at High School Debate Camps.
Sometimes I would also take a trip to go to High School Debate Nationals.
Most national tournaments at the High School or College levels rotate around the country.
Well, in 1993 (maybe 1994) High School Nationals was held in Fargo North Dakota.
Recently, I told you a story about one of my former students who was investigated by the Secret Service around this same time for putting out a Hip-Hop album with his group F-Kripz (F was for Fargo - a joke on the fact that no black people lived in Fargo).
So, I had a small bit of experience with Fargo. But I had never visited.
My Topeka to Fargo Summer
Don't worry, we will get to Helmet in just a little bit more.
Who knew Topeka Kansas was a fun place?
I debated at the University of Central Oklahoma (Go Bronchos!).
Our best friends (and some of our closest rivals) debated at Emporia State University.
Probably my best friend at that time invited me to spend a few weeks with him at his parents house in Topeka and then take a trip together to High School Nationals in Fargo (where we were being paid to judge debates).
Believe it or not, those couple weeks in Topeka were an absolute blast.
My friend and I would play basketball all day, go eat at a great cheap Mexican Place called Tortilla Jacks, and then go hang out with friends at the bars.
The basketball games were epic, all of us loved to play, and all of us were pretty much in the best shapes of our lives. A ton of the other debaters from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Emporia State also lived in the area, so we were playing games for serious bragging rights.
Anyway, it was a great two weeks. I was sad to see it go.
For some reason we decided it would be better to make the drive at night (maybe because of traffic?) hard to say in retrospect.
So, that evening, we packed up his car and got ready for the 9 hour drive to Fargo (I seem to remember it was 9 hours - but maybe my memory is off).
He had a really great car stereo, I remember how great the sound was even at high volume (at that age we were not worried about things like damage to our tender little ears).
Then we started to get tired.
And that is when my friend, in his infinite wisdom, pulled out his newest cassette purchase.
An album called "Meantime" by a band called Helmet.
I am starting to notice that I bonded with a large percentage of the albums in this series on road trips.
Helmet was a revelation and was played virtually the rest of the entire trip.
At a high volume, it seemed almost impossible to listen to Meantime without moving your whole body in tune with the music.
There is an element of drone to their sound and of purposeful repetition, but within each drone their are moments of change and release that build tension and prevent the songs from becoming boring.
Page Hamilton, the guitarist for Helmet, was trained as a Jazz musician, but decided to make music in a much harder rock vein (how many people finish jazz conservatory to become hard rock players?).
John Stanier, Helmets drummer, is just a great drummer with metanomic timing and incredible chops (you might know him now from his current band Battles).
I myself would be considered a loose (sloppy) drummer - a "feel" drummer. So, part of me always admired the super technically proficient drummers like Stanier.
I have heard Helmet called everything from grunge, to math rock, to heavy metal.
But who cares what genre they are/were?
Whatever you end up calling them, they can still get me going (maybe just from the sense memory of that drive all those years ago).
Meantime has great Songs like:
In the Meantime Iron Head Give It You Borrowed FBLA II (incredible precise drum work) Role Model
And my personal favorite Unsung.
It is just an album chock full of kick ass songs.
The easiest way for me to explain the sound is that it is like listening to The Melvins but with more tempo and purpose but less pure drone.
To me, this album will always make me return to feeling desperate for more caffeine and louder music as we hurtled down a highway (probably much faster than we should have hurtled).
As you probably guessed, we made it to Fargo, got some sleep, judged that tournament and drove back to Topeka at a much more leisurely pace.
To this day, if I am tired and need to get work done, Meantime by Helmet is my "go to" album.
If you like the all-time album series - I try to write a new one every Wednesday. Last weeks all-time album was Upstairs at Eric's by Yaz.
What is your go to adrenaline album? What music do you listen to when you drive tired? What was your favorite road trip music memory? All that's missing is your story, leave a comment!