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Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness CD (album) cover


Harvey Milk


Experimental/Post Metal

3.50 | 4 ratings

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4 stars I recently heard an interview with Creston (guitar, voice) and Kyle (drums) from Harvey Milk, conducted by Jeff Olson (former member of the metal band Trouble), and I was surprised to hear that the band thought that their well-received "Life... the Best Game in Town" was their worst album. While I think it is safe to say that that album is their most accessible and conventional, it certainly doesn't reek of "sellout" in the least. It's a hard core Harvey Milk album with a few bones thrown to the more garden variety metal-heads, but the songs are consistently strong to my ears, and it really rocks hard and true. But given the band's thoughts on it, I guess their subsequent release of this album, "A Small Turn of Human Kindness", makes a little more sense.

Borrowing the title of the album from the first song on their first album, right away you can tell that Harvey Milk has decided to make a record like the ones they started with in the 1990s -- art-damaged, head-wrenching sludge. Like their early masterwork "Courtesy and Good Will Towards Men", this album plays like one long piece, divided into seven tracks but organically flowing together with the inevitability of a river of lava.

Before I get to the songs themselves, first a general word about what I mean by "art damaged sludge". Low frequencies, played slowly and loudly. Delivered in a way meant to feel like a blow to the head. It's more about heaviness and sonic impact than about "rock" per se. But here is where Harvey Milk differs from other bands that might bear that label: their instruments sound so natural and unbothered by technology (i.e. fancy effects or production) that you can almost FEEL the guitar pick hitting the string, or the drum stick hitting the drum heads. There's a very tangible, physical, REAL sound going on, and for me that adds immensely to its personal appeal. It's so natural sounding that I even have a hard time thinking of it as "metal", though that's largely due to prejudices from growing up in the 1980s that haven't quite faded away.

It begins with an untitled instrumental, a slowly plodding fanfare on electric guitar, an angular guitar riff played slowly and deliberately, punctuated by crashes on the bass and drums. This turns out to be an introduction to the first vocal track, "I Just Want to Go Home", where raging howls of pain are answered by a feedback-based guitar solo that demonstrates Creston Spiers's incredible control of his tone (playing that slow is harder than it sounds!). This leads directly into the linking piece "I Am Sick of All This Too", essentially a tension-building rhythmic exercise with the trio playing in unison. "I Know This is No Place for You" follows, for the first time giving us something that resembles a hard rock song (albeit barely), with a steady (though still slow) beat and an identifiable chord progression. The second half of the album follows suit, offering little in the way of recognizable hooks, but much in the way of difficult, emotional music. While the template of their early albums is clearly the inspiration here, their added tightness and sense of melody from their later albums keeps things fresh and dynamic.

Though it's hard to notice on first listen, since the music is characterized by spare simplicity and empty spaces, the band has clearly taken some time with the arrangements, adding piano (a key element of the aforementioned "Courtesy..." album), and usually at least one overdubbed guitar for texture and harmony. The overall "story" of the album, if there is one, concerns the agony of self-doubt, fear of the future, and helplessness one may face in dire circumstances - a personal crisis Creston went through, perhaps? Not my business really, but the lyrics read like a letter to his wife - a letter of complaints, fears, concerns, and serious questions about how to move forward. In a perverse way, though, there is a ray of humor through all this. Maybe it's the song titles, which thematically hold the album together with their similarity to each other and their over-the-top narcissism.

As of this writing, this is the last Harvey Milk album to appear. The band generally doesn't commit to much or show their hand very often -- they seem to record when and only when they feel like it, resulting in small bursts of activity bookended with long periods of silence. But this album has the ring of a new beginning, a fresh start based on the band's core values of art-damaged sludge that really sounds like nothing but Harvey Milk. This is a fine album that bodes extremely well for the band's future.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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