Bitch Magazine, Summer 2005
The world of The Tuna Helpers is an eerie place, the kind of fantastical dreamland that would make Tim Burton feel at home. The Austin, TX-based trio plays rich, orchestral Gothic pop with punk rock attitude; their highly dramatic shows include a puppet theater with singing dolls, ornate costumes and a keyboardist who often communicates lyrics via sign language. The Tuna Helpers moniker is both a playful reference to sea creatures (who frequently served as subject matter for their first album The Suspicious Fish) and as an intentional double entendre for the band members, who are very active in the gay and lesbian community. Though the Tunas excel at live performance, their mix of the bizarre, energetic and creepy translates quite well to CD. On I’ll Have What She’s Having, their second release, sisters Adrienne (guitar, vocals) and Bethany (bells, keyboards) Sneed and drummer Khattie Quinones create dark, multi-layered songs that bring their private fairy tales to life.
Adrienne’s vocals are the most arresting feature of the Tunas’ repertoire. She can sing with operatic range and precision, or whittle her voice down to a warble of petulant protestations. Sneed wails and whispers as though she were a precocious child trapped in a woman’s body. In “Blueberry Head”, she sings “Wake up you kitten/ Fasten your cape/ Put on your mittens/ Perhaps you've forgotten your whiskers/ And lost your way,” matter-of-factly tone over deep, melodic cello, creating a mood completely at odds with the bleak conclusion of the narrative. The pretty, gentle crooning on “Frying Pan” and “Circus Song” earn her a Kate Bush comparison, while she sounds like a comforting mother singing a lullaby on “Sea Monster”.
The vocals alone would be lost without Quinones’ expressive drumming and the wide array of sound effects produced by Bethany’s keyboards. Layers of lilting rhythms, tinkling keys and atmospheric chords provide the sonically opulent atmosphere of I’ll Have What She’s Having. In the brief interlude “Oh No”, the steady, ticking percussion mimics a clock, and the slow, labored pace of “All The Children” gives the song the feel of a death march. In “Stars”, the Sneed sisters harmonize while bells ring out like a warped music box wound too tightly.
The Tuna Helpers are not purveyors of the “Goth” music of your teenage years. I’ll Have What She’s Having is smarter, prettier and has a sense of humor. Members of the band don’t take themselves too seriously, but rather revel in the off-kilter, finding beauty in the unexpected. Despite flowery words and dense layers, their songs about turtles, stars and witches aren’t heavy-handed, but lighthearted, if twisted. Though Adrienne may race around stage, kicking and screaming, her piercing eyes bulging out of her head as she releases a glorious yowl, you’d somehow feel at ease leaving her with your children. After all, Edward Scissorhands turned out to be pretty sweet, too.