Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Harvey Milk - Harvey Milk (The Bob Weston Sessions)

My take on the new album Harvey Milk by Harvey Milk from Decoy Music:

Rating: 3.5
on a scale out of 5.0

The Melvins
Sunn O)))

Harvey Milk has always seemed like one of those bands that are painfully unrecognized. They pioneered some of the stoner metal that is highly revered in popular bands today yet not many are familiar with the group. It's not too much of a shock though; there are many factors that have lead to this being the case. No one is going to think it is too strange that critics aren't constantly singing the praises of an aging stoner metal band with a turbulent recording past. Still, the group retains their devoted fanbase and that's what this style of music is about. They had a remarkable reemergence with 2008's Life… The Best Game in Town and won over a whole new generation of fans. The group is giving back to them by finally releasing what was previously known as The Bob Weston Sessions.

Life... The Best Game in Town was a reawakening for me. It shined a new light on metal and had me completely engrossed in the stoner side of it. I had been sold on Harvey Milk being one of the predominant stoner metal voices of all time and their live show was even more of an eye opener. With this release, the band has awarded me the opportunity get a rare glimpse into their humble (relatively speaking of course) beginnings. This is the debut that never was for the stoner metal legends. The record was previously only available on their 2009 tour in a limited run vinyl and has also been circulating around the blogosphere for quite some time. Finally, fans are getting a taste of an album they have been craving for years.

From the start of their career, Harvey Milk absolutely nailed that 'we don't give a shit' sound yet it was still obviously carefully crafted. Bob Weston seems like the ideal man to bring this to the forefront. He knows how to produce some excellent noise as made evident with his band Shellac alongside Steve Albini. These are extremely raw tracks but it wouldn’t have worked any other way. From the slow, brooding notes of “Blueberry Dookie” to the scorching gallop of “Anthem” there is no mistaking this is Harvey Milk.

Many of these tracks surfaced on later albums. The majority of them were featured on My Love is Higher than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be which is the album that ended up being their debut instead of this one. Fans should also be familiar with “Plastic Eggs,” which appeared on their landmark release Courtesy and Goodwill Toward Men. Many of these songs are already fan favorites and live staples yet the versions here have their own merits.

This isn’t an odds and ends collection. These are songs that were fully realized and were supposed to be together. All the elements that would later become part of the signature Harvey Milk sound are present. The thunderous drum sound and plotting bass lay the groundwork for their signature stoner sludge. These pieces are paired with sparse, dissonant minimalism as well as punishing riffs to take you on quite the journey through these ten tracks. Throughout the record, Creston Spiers adds to the menacing nature with his vocals sounding like they could curdle milk. The styles range from the waves of sludge found in “My Father’s Life’s Work” to the speedy, destructive riffs of “Probölkoc” and “Smile”. The closing track "Anthem" is an absolute showstopper. Blazing riffs, a searing solo, and a crushing ending are sequenced perfectly to create a song that is the epitome of good metal.

Make no mistake about it: this one is for the fans. Not everyone can handle this type of grating noise for an hour. It may be a daunting task to take it all in at once but fans of the genre will be glad they did. One wonders if the band’s history would have been rewritten had this album come out when it was supposed to. The reality is that it probably would have panned out the same in the end. This one was destined for obscurity but also destined to be classic for those with a penchant for the obscure. It would have been one hell of a debut but instead it’s a snapshot of an all but forgotten past. It almost seems disappointing knowing what came after it but that wouldn't be entirely fair to label it so. There is still plenty of reason to add this one to your collection. It gives fans fodder for discussion on which version of each song is their favorite and it adds to the overall Harvey Milk legacy.

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