The Unnatural Helpers have been banging around Seattle for a few years now as the perennial hobbyhorse of singer / drummer / songwriter / sole consistent member Dean Whitmore, who has also spent time with such Seattle outfits as the Intelligence, Welcome and Dipers. Despite the myriad lineup changes over the years, the band has managed to retain and expand on its original sound in a steady and cohesive way – anyone who has witnessed the live show over the years will be well familiar with the band’s taut, muscular guitar-rock, driven by Whitmore’s whip-tight drumming and usually caustic, often self-deprecating vocals. Oh, and the songs are always short. Very short.
No words should be wasted listing off the dozen or so people that have passed through the ranks, and even as this is being typed it remains impossible to guess at who all is playing in the current lineup of the band, so let’s just agree to focus on the folks that played on the record. Guitar and sporadic vocal duties are held down by Brian Standeford and Leo Gebhardt (who have previously played together in the Catheters, Tall Birds and most recently Idle Times), with some additional playing by Kinski’s Chris Martin. Kimberly Morrison from the Dutchess & the Duke provides confident, swaggering bass lines throughout, as well as some guitar, keys, and the occasional backing vocal. All the way through Whitmore’s half sung / half shouted vocals and lashing drums seem to be racing the rest of the instruments to end of the song.
Recorded over the course of a week with Seattle mainstay Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks, etc), this particular incarnation of the Helpers certainly seems to have struck upon something – Cracked Love & Other Drugs is a collection of beguiling and wonderfully varied tunes. Album standout “Sunshine / Pretty Girls” finds the band at their pop best with Whitmore, Standeford and Morrison combining for a big sing along chorus. “Our Most Entitled” is tense, wiry and delightfully unstable, while “Brave Dumb Face” is a full-on freak-out, Whitmore barking out lyrics over insistently off-kilter drumming while guitars buzz in and out of the mix. The guitars get big and sweeping on tracks like “Claim it Mine” and “The Truth about You”; it may seem strange to use the word epic regarding songs that fall short of the two minute mark it seems to be the only apt descriptor here.
Cracked Love is 15 songs that conflict and compliment, in just over 25 minutes. Ricocheting between broken and twisted relationships, mock fatalist wink nodage, knucklehead party racket, absurd isolationist paranoia and open book love-letter sap-crap with the prevailing sentiment being summarily diffused just before it has gone too far. This push and pull friction along with great pop sensibilities and good old fashioned rock & roll KRAANG is in the end what makes Cracked Love such an intriguing, appealing listen.