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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Harvey Milk - The Singles [Relapse - 2003]

Anyone into noiserock and vinyl is probably aware of the works of wonderful cult-phenomenon Harvey Milk, a diabolical trio that emerged from the extensive indie rock scene of Athens, GA, and thought it a good idea to name their band after a controversial homosexual politician from San Francisco that was ultimately assassinated. Symbolism galore if you ask me: the band appeared out of nowhere, made a lot of noise and died a premature death. Harvey Milk recorded three full-length albums in their time, as well as a handful of singles. And that is what this thirteen-track disc is all about, a couple of long-lost gems you can now finally unleash upon your speakers if you're not that big a Harvey Milk fan and never bothered to seek out the band's vinyl releases.

Ofcourse a compilation of singles such as this one lacks the cohesion of a regular album, and a deliberately constructed flow is clearly absent, but considering the challenging, 'mindfucking' quality of Harvey Milk's music, this does not present much of an obstacle. If you could handle the sudden eruptions of contrast and diversity of Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men, you will find this compilation pretty easy-going by Harvey Milk standards. In fact, Relapse could have released this disc as the band's fourth studio album, which probably wouldn't have puzzled many newcomers to the Milk. Speaking of newcomers, The Singles will most likely present first contact with this band for quite a lot of open-minded followers of the Relapse roster of extreme music. Thank the Lord this shit doesn't disappoint.

If you are a member of the above-mentioned group of lucky people, I should tell you that one of the trademarks of Harvey Milk is an ugly, distasteful (by closed-minded standards) sound. Even though a number of tracks on this compilation feature a sound that can almost be described a polished, a greater number of them come across as filthy and raw. Getting cold feet now? How pathetic, you should have stopped reading when I mentioned the term 'noiserock' at the beginning of this review. But... you don't know what you're missing.

One of the strengths of Harvey Milk, is that the heavily distorted bass- and guitarsound often creates a near-psychedelic effect, like in the strangely titled Yer Mouse Gets My Dander Up. On top of that, Creston's vocal madness is in a rotten league of it's own. Throughout most songs his voice is set to only one mode: the one you know of as 'drowning in cheap whiskey'. It conjures up images and sounds of a karaoke at four 'o clock in the morning, set in a dark filthy club filled with seamen who are feverishly spending their earnings on alcohol, only to be ripped-off later at night by an ugly whore of whom they cannot even perceive the physical features anymore. Fortunately, Creston's talent does not end here. He can sing clean as well. Kinda. Somewhat. Aw hell, the important thing is that there's a lot of emotion in his voice, whether he's screaming like a gorilla with a spiked baseball bat up his ass or portraying a wasted grunge-singer who has just had his tensils removed.
Aside from some basic characteristics, these songs have little in common with each other. From the disturbingly heavy, monotonous sludge of Yer Mouse Gets My Dander Up, to the passionate, dirty rock 'n roll of Wunderful Meat, to the heavy-handed depri-rock of Easy Thing (originally by Kiss!), to the noisy, fucked-up sounds of Jaws Jack, and to the terrifying explosions of despair and madness of Smile, this record is one insane adventure in the land of eccentric rock.

If you're new to Harvey Milk and enjoy such grand artists like The Melvins and Neurosis, I highly recommend this compilation as a broad testament to what Harvey Milk was about. And if you dig this shit, the golden vault of the more experimental Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men awaits.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Patrick Toepoel
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