Wednesday, January 27, 2010

HARVEY MILK "Harvey Milk" (Hydrahead)

Back when the band was broken up, any new issuing of Harvey Milk material felt like some sort of peak into a secret world-they were a mysterious, crushing band with only three albums released, all displaying a myriad of moods and aesthetics, so anything new was pounced upon like the cult treasure it certainly was. Now that they're back and increasing their output, all those archival releases seem a little less interesting. So how do we view this new edition of their very first unreleased album (restored by the good folks at the inestimable Hydrahead records), recorded by Bob Weston back in 1994 and stolen by some guy who had promised to put it out after he fronted the recording costs? All of these songs have appeared in some form or another over the years, and pretty much all of the "official" versions are better in every respect. Nothing has changed structurally in the songs and the only real differences are tonal. What's the value? Who's the audience here? Obviously it's diehards (like me), the idiots who'll slobber over everything with this band's name on it, but it also shows how tight and focused Harvey Milk have always been. There are songs here that ended up on all three of the band's albums, so the varied approach was always there, and the composition and craft were pretty firmly in place right from the outset. What changed between this and "My Love..." is the ambition and imagination. This record, taken at face value, represents only one aspect of Harvey Milk-the lumbering, weighty stagnancy of a band (probably the only band) that could out-Melvins the Melvins. Only "F.S.T.P." would hint at the tear-drawing beauty that these guys were capable of. By the time the masters for this record had been stolen, an artistic leap had been made. "My Love..." is so much more, all over, in every way. So much heavier, so much more confounding, so much more progressive, so much more fucked up and so much more METAL. Within "My Love..."'s first three tracks you have no idea what you're dealing with. When "Courtesy..." dropped a few years after, no one was anywhere near ready for the level of assaulting depression, anger and self-loathing it contained, nor could they take in the gaping, wide-eyed loveliness that was being wrought. Harvey Milk matured at an astonishing rate after laying down this eponymous, glorified demo. It's enjoyable enough, sure, and a great piece of the HM legacy, and it's fun to hear the guitar solo in "Jim's Polish" and think "yep-Creston's from the south", but beyond that it doesn't reach the peaks of the actual official releases. They were right to wait so long on this, and i wonder what would have happened had this album actually seen release rather than "My Love...". I think we'd being seeing a much different band and a much different legacy. Maybe we all owe that asshole who stole the masters a collective thanks.

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