Harvey Milk - Life...the Best Game in Town [HydraHead - 2008]
Harvey Milk are a band who are often associated with "stoner" or "doom" metal, as a result of the lack of any reasonable facsimile for comparison. The band does create an incredibly heavy, at times sludgy racket, but they've been through too many permutations to pigeon-hole. They created a masterpiece in the form of one of the saddest, daresay sensitive hard rock albums of their era with 1995's Courtesy and Goodwill Toward Men. The album took drawn-out slack-stringed heaviness to an audacious extreme. Yet instead of being simply heavy, the music brimmed with beautiful background melodies applied in an almost subliminal manner. Add to that the mournful, muffled wail of the vocals. Of Course, the aforementioned album is only one facet of this band
Following their first couple albums, Harvey Milk somewhere along the line developed an affinity for southern boogie riffage ala ZZ Top. They certainly kept some of their over the top sludge as well. Yet where Courtesy was devoid of any real soloing or quick playing, their last couple albums, particularly the Pleaser, include more than their share of speedy, precise playing. Occasionally there are even some wicked multi-tracked guitar solos.
Life...takes elements from all phases of Harvey Milk's existence, it's like a stew of everything they've done, with a few new tricks thrown in. The good news is that they do everything just about spot-on. The albums starts off with a bit of sludge, then breaks into one of the weirdest (even for them) scraping, noisy instrumental breaks you're likely to hear. The riff based songs are drum tight, and the soloing is assembled for maximum stun effect. Everything about Life... is huge. The production is heavy, the guitars are heavy, the drums are heavy. But it's not overwhelming, because, perhaps most surprisingly of all, it's upbeat in its own strange way.
There's a weird sense of humor, which can be gleaned to some extent by the Iron Maiden poster on the front cover, and from the cover of L.A. Punk wiseasses Fear (We Destroy the Family). Not to mention the non-sequitur rendition of the Looney Tunes theme, following the most mournful song on the album. And as heavy a they are, you can't really define what Harvey Milk does as metal. They don't share any of the generic characteristics of even doom metal, which they are often pegged with. In fact, there's nothing generic about them at all. Anything that they approach sounds like it couldn't have come from anyone else. There's a certain humility about them, which is hard to trace. It may be early, but what this all adds up to is one of the best albums you're likely to hear this year.Erwin Michelfelder