Saturday, June 5, 2010


This album came out of nowhere. Suddenly Harvey Milk are just putting shit out left and right, some kind of weird and vital creative resurgence, emerging from the culted underground into the metal limelight to do battle with heavyweights like Torche and Jesu. I reference both of those artists and not, say, the Melvins or Boris, because on " A Small Turn..." that's who Harvey Milk is most reminding me of. Granted, it isn't as blissed out, sun-drowned or immersive as either project, and it certainly lacks Torche's conciseness, but this new record finds HM in a positively accessible sort of mindframe, turning in their most inviting and least abrasive album in a long time (perhaps ever.)
That isn't to say this reinvents the wheel. It's still Harvey Milk, for fuck's sake, so don't worry. It's agonizingly slow, depressing in the "drag you through the shit and mire of life" way that this band has perfected and there are still moments of intense and skewed angularity that destroy whatever grooves you might have thought you were hearing. But here there's also something else. There's a display of pop sensibility and a sort of economy that Harvey Milk have never really demonstrated before. This is the most melodic record this band has ever made, and that's saying quite a bit considering the epic and stately guitar forlorn-fests Creston Spiers has churned out over the last 15 years or so. The chord progressions here are big and almost comforting, maybe a sly wink at convention or an open, embracing "who gives a fuck, i can write this sort of song" acknowledgment of 21st century metal tropes. It certainly isn't doom in the traditional sense and for Harvey Milk to veer this far outside of the comfort zone material wise is an extremely interesting sonic development.
These are aching, yearning and far-reaching songs. Even the titles imply a sort of expansiveness: "I Am Sick Of All This Too," "I Know This Is All My Fault," "I Just Want to Go Home." These are moods and feelings that Harvey Milk have trudged through before but here they take on a more universal understanding-you've probably felt this way, and somewhere right now someone else is probably feeling all this shit too. It's happening everywhere, all the time. Somewhere someone's fucking something up, somewhere someone's failing, somewhere someone's crying and feeling like giving up is the only fucking thing left. There are all of these missed connections and desires that go unanswered, so much pain shoved far down into all of us that never gets a chance to air. It just festers and rots and carves out a space inside where all the emptiness begins to pool. This record captures that sadness, that feeling of absolute and total resignation.
Creston's voice has rarely sounded better. Here it's an instrument of connection, a bellow and a whisper, a cry and a sob, a kiss and a dance, a caress as well as a wail. Again, the fact that the music is so fucking anthemic probably lends to this but either way he's shredding his lungs with a passion usually reserved for the band's Leonard Cohen covers. There's a vulnerability there now that was absent or more hidden on earlier albums-here it's more naked and honest.
The entire album is a work of calculated reservation-songs don't go much beyond six minutes, lyrics are sparse and there's only one guitar solo across the record's 37 minute runtime (if i had one complaint, it would be the lack of incendiary guitar work-it's one of my favorite parts of this band's approach to doom metal.) Whatever it lacks in length it makes up in quality. For anyone new to Harvey Milk, this would be an excellent starting point and would probably make the absorption of monsters like "Courtesy and Goodwill..." and "My Love..." a lot easier as far as processing the immense feelings of self-loathing and crippling depression these albums ensconce themselves and their listeners in. For the avid HM follower it's a surprising and lovely new direction. The cover art does a good job painting this-a beautiful photograph of dead trees and foliage, a wide empty sky, all rendered in black and white and grey. There's beauty, but there's sadness too, and more often than not the two coexist. It's the acceptance of both that interest Harvey Milk, the way that suffering can create great works of powerful meaning, either to the masses or to individuals. Recommended.

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