Confession: If it were not for the Dead Kennedys, I wouldn’t know who Harvey Milk even was. And if it weren’t for a new film starring Sean Penn about the assassinated gay city supervisor from San Francisco, I wouldn’t have thought about Harvey Milk. And if it weren’t for looking for information about the Gun Van Sant film, I wouldn’t have discovered that Harvey Milk had released an album this year. And if it weren’t for Glorious Noise, you may not know that the new album, Life…The Best Game In Town, is quite good.
I believe that every man and woman in America should know something about the life of Harvey Milk the man, just as I believe that every fan of the Melvins should know something about the band Harvey Milk. They harvest similar fields, a land where the most beautifully heavy terrains are the ones that you pass over at a combine pace. And to continue with that farming analogy, your Honda may be able to outrun that aforementioned farm implement, but the moment your vehicle’s standing still, that huge monstrosity would annihilate it.
Harvey Milk, even after doing this for seventeen years, can still gut bands half their age and still sound as if they’ve got the creative fortitude for another seventeen more. Life… incorporates a wider range in the margins of sludge. “Motown” finds a slow groove, throws out some harmonic double-tracked vocals and provides us with what may be the most accessible Harvey Milk track to date. “Roses” begins with a lonely piano and acoustic guitar with Creston Spiers‘ gentle, broken delivery. After a minute, all the feeling is destroyed with towering chords of distortion and underneath Spiers’ sudden turn towards doom-laden wails. Milk also tackles Fear‘s “We Destroy The Family,” which is currently creating an urge for me to revisit some of that seminal punk band’s own material, which is exactly what a cover should do.
The best of the lot is “Barnburner” which is exactly that and “After All I’ve Done, This Is How You Repay Me,” another rollicking number with stop/start tempo changes and enough riffs to fuel an entire album by a lesser bands.
Then there’s the closer “Goodbye Blues,” which again rakes in the muck before unleashing a wonderfully sonic solo halfway through before revisiting the dirge pacing for the last three minutes. It carries on for over eight minutes, with Milk returning to the corpse of the riff they destroyed, seemingly to kick it around after it’s dead just for good measure. After the last moments of distortion pass, the band suddenly begins playing a spirited cartoon theme song before ending Life… with a hit to the gong.
Like the most recent Melvins album, Harvey Milk’s latest is impeccably produced. The drums sound just as menacing (and real) as the guitars and they’re vital to this album’s winning formula. It also points to a band that has been around the block enough times to know what to play, what not to play, and how the studio should serve as photographic evidence of the melee instead of a CGI-created reenactment.
While Hollywood is getting ready to address that with their own account of the real Milk, the band is ready for their close-up too. To think that I would have missed such an impressive offering if it weren’t for the timing of Van Sant’s work and Penn’s star power. Milk is released this week, but it is also a great opportunity to consider the latest from a band with the same name and just as much inner drive.