27 June, 2009

Recent Loves

Harvey Milk - Courtesy and Good Will Toward MenHarvey Milk, Courtesy and Goodwill Toward Men. Ho-ho-ho-o-o-o-AWOHly piss, this record is magic. Like the first time you sniff a pair of panties.
Don't tell me I'm the only one.
Anyway, this was released back in 1997, and while Harvey Milk got compared to Melvins an awful lot, it's fairly unwarranted. First of all, Melvins knew slow and they knew long and you'd better thank your lucky stars that they never had the mind to combine "Hung Bunny" (1992) with "Charmicarmicat" (1991), because most of those songs are a big old Drop-D D chord and four fuzz pedal feedback, respectively. Hell, combined they don't even last as long as Sleep's "Dopesmoker", a sprawling one hour, three minute, thirty one second piece of bong-busting fuck-you-up. That was in 1995 (not released until 2003). In 1996, Boris decided they would take a stab at long with "Absolutego", which was originally one hour fifteen seconds until it was rereleased in 2001, then an extra five minutes nineteen seconds appeared.
But you're getting that from 1992 to 1996, some very heavy hitters in the sludge metal world were absolutely convinced that the concepts of "duration" and "torture" were not mutually exclusive, right?
Here's the thing, though.
1993 saw Melvins signed to Atlantic, and as catchy as Houdini is, it also still has enough left-field weirdness ghettoized to the b-side to signify that Melvins were moving very far away from sludge indeed. By 1997, they had moved on to Honky, which had as much to with metal music as limburger has to do with metal substance.
1997 saw the break up of Sleep, which was a shame because, man, if you've ever heard "Dopesmoker", you know that thing is, thanks to twists, turns, and nuances, actually like four songs combined into one. Unlike Boris' "Absolutego", which was just an exercise in doing the same thing for an hour.
"Dopesmoker", while an epic study in heaviness, duration, and nuance, never really pulled out the left field moves. Melvins, at their heaviest ('87 - '92), never strove for "epic" anything, sometimes they just liked fucking with people.
Enter Harvey Milk.
Harvey Milk, like I said, gets some comparisons to Melvins because it's a cheap cop-out comparison bored music critics can pull out of their asses to describe anything that dares to go slower than 90BPM, last longer than three minutes, and espouse anything that sounds remotely down-tuned.
Harvey Milk does not sound like fucking Melvins. As a matter of fact, they don't sound like anything else happening in the sludge metal vein.
1997's Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men, when put up against its contemporaries is more of a mind fuck than you can imagine. One review I read cites Bartok. Well, my classical vocabulary is limited, so I can't vouch for that or echo it, but I will say that if you take parts of ZZTop and Thin Lizzy, parts of Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss and Camille Saint-Saëns, and the more tuneful elements of Stockhausen you have an inkling of what this record can do to you. If the Melvins were making weird songs in 1997, Harvey Milk had the sense to do weird intervals. If Sleep were going an hour with heavy metal, Harvey Milk were keeping it at twelve minutes and going symphonic.
"Brown Water", the second song off this record, goes through five minutes of peaks and valleys, gently lullabying the listener until there's this huge majestic four minute coda with not to mention one of the most tastefully constructed and employed guitar solos I've ever heard.
"Pinnochio's Example" opens the record with a piano straight out of something like a bad Rosemary's Baby knock off before shifting into accelerating snare drum work Todd Trainer would use ten years later on Shellac's "End of Radio" coupled with the kind of high pitched stinging single-note you hear from a pissed off hornet with tape speed shifts in the back ground. There's six minutes of this before it sounds like Moby Dick being dropped onto the deck of the Pequod from nine miles in the air. There's a mastery in the employment of silence in these parts before a lone, gentle, finger-picked baritone guitar comes into accompany the sound of a whisper-singing voice and a table saw.
You read that right: Table saw.
There isn't a thing about this record that isn't moving, stirring, or unsettling. In particular about this record, though, you can't compare it to much of anything that occupies the genre it's been lumped in. I know this because I very nearly copped out and wrote that it sounded like "what would happen if you took the shit the guys in Sleep were smoking and gave it Explosions in the Sky". Yeah, I nearly wrote that. The irony, of course, is that I just did, so I'm going to have to ask that you, the jury, ignore the evidence. It's douchey and incorrect. And trying to pull the cop out move of comparing anything to anything with this record, which I try to not do with reviews in the first place, I find that, if pressed to make a comparison, I'm fucking stumped. It's why I've referred to only parts of ZZTop and Thin Lizzy, only parts of classical composers you've never heard of (and yes, now that I think about it, this record does carry particular learnings from Ravel's Boléro), and only particular portions of Stockhausen; on top of that, none of these elements are getting into fights with each other, making babies with each other, or any of that other nonsensical crap that goes on in the mind of a record reviewer. "It's like Jesus had a baby with awesome!" Fuck that. This record is one of the few that gets released every decade or so that defies comparison to its contemporaries and displays influences long unheard thanks to the triplet evolutions of trend, influence, and attention. It's a culling of history that doesn't cheapen things in the "musical historian" manner; you know, like how Jack White is convinced he's a black man from the Mississippi Delta circa the Great Depression. Harvey Milk's Creston Spiers, however, takes the bits and pieces he needs and twists them into different things all together. That's from where the real magic comes.
Or maybe it's just because this record is heavy as shit.

Check out WFMU's live recording of Harvey Milk from SXSW '08.

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