13 July, 2013

The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (The Band), Episode 5: Life... The Best Game in Town

A Sound Design and Assembly Original Miniseries
Produced by M. Martin
Tonight: 2008's Life... The Best Game in Town
Written by Charlie Pauken
So, last week's episode was hampered by a dying computer and that I got drunk while trying to cope with that doing the best I could OK, so I got drunk. I had to work for twenty minutes, let the thing cool down for twenty minutes, work again for twenty, do dick all for twenty... like that.
This week, I come to you from my new lappie 'puter and the only beer I have in me right now is a root beer. Also? Two junior roast beefs from Arby's because fuck you.
In the two years since putting out the best record ever made, Harvey Milk return slightly to their earlier efforts with Life... The Best Game in Town, opening with "Death Goes to the Winner", featuring a gentle lyrical guitar intro with harmonized vocals evoking imagery of Christmas time before the song, you guessed it, goes bang for the chorus. If you think Pixies or Nirvana cornered the market on the loud-quiet-loud angle, then you've not heard "Death Goes to the Winner". The song goes back to the intro figure for the second verse and then the big bang chorus and then there's the four minute, nineteen second outro, and this song is seven minutes fifty five seconds. That's right: Nearly half this song is the outro. Who did you think you were listening to, anyway? Has nothing I've mentioned about this band sank in? And then, of course, the lyrics in the outro reference Velvet Underground's "Waiting For The Man" because, just like I ate two Arby's junior roast beefs, fuck you.
And then, just to let you know the song is over, I guess, there's a big piano chord.
To kick off "Decades", Kyle Spence's drum kit is given the old "When the Levee Breaks" treatment with the reverb. This song was featured on some NPR show a few years back, right around the time Life... was released, obviously, and there were, what I'm sure, two Ira Glass looking motherfuckers - every male voice on NPR sounds like he looks like Ira Glass to me except for David Sedaris who, for some reason, I see as a clean-shaven Ben Kingsley in my mind's eye - talking about new indie releases for that month and how there's this band called Harvey Milk that takes it's name from the celebrated GLBT politician and civil rights activist and how the band sound nothing like one would expect because apparently A) the only thing that ever was about Harvey Milk, the man, was that he was gay and that informed all of his decisions from his plumbing fixtures to his breakfast cereal because GAY! all the time, you know and B) when all there is about a person is their sexual alignment, the only things that can be associated with them is shitty club music or probably because these two Ira Glass looking motherfuckers have never heard anything heavier than the Vines' "Get Free" coming from the headphones of the stock boy next to them at the Whole Foods that one time. And considering that "Decades" is perhaps one of the most accessible (and, frankly, Zeppelin-esque) songs in Harvey Milk's canon, using all the Jimmy Page reverb tricks, like reverse echo and the aforementioned drum sound and even nicking a few Page/Jones moves, that shows you what the music goons at NPR knew. And they wonder why I don't pledge.
"After All I've Done For You, This Is How You Repay Me?" is just one big ball of riff that makes you want to put down your guitar because, fuck, now you're done. How are they pulling that off? It's enough to make me want to say something shitty about Reign in Blood, it's that good.
"Skull Socks & Rope Shoes" exhibits Harvey Milk pulling off that fine southern-blues-metal-dirge that they pull off so well. I hesitate to say that it's a return to form for them since, as I've explained in previous episodes, they really don't have a form; they just do whatever the hell they want, that is to say whatever they have a genuine interest in, not just dicking around and genre hopping for its own sake. "Skull Socks & Rope Shoes" is probably as fine a primer as you'll find for the uninitiated.
"We Destroy the Family" is a Fear cover with a vaguely funk inspired guitar and bass interplay over taut, syncopated heavy metal tom pounding over spastic kick-snare work reminiscent almost of 80s industrial drum machines and "TV Party"-esque chants. Oh, and I forgot to mention the almost surf inspired guitar solo. Writing it out, it sounds like it shouldn't work. But remember who we're talking about here. They can pull it off.
"Motown" doesn't sound like anything that ever came out of Motown, before you ask. It's actually a relaxing anthemic number, if you can think of what that would sound like. Wait. You don't have to think about it, you can actually listen to this song and then you'll know what a relaxing anthem sounds like.
"A Maelstrom of Bad Decisions" harkens back to "Where the Bee Sucks, There Suck I" off of My Love is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be, the songs could be fraternal twins, really.
"Roses" begins with a piano and vocal intro that's been missing from the last two records and then the whole thing moves into Queen levels of bombast before a brief breakdown and then back into the big arena-reaching howls and soaring arrangement before going back into the breakdown passage again before one last, let's face it, Queen-esque outro.
"Barn Burner" is exactly what the title says it is and it features vocals by some bloke named Andrew Prater that perfectly match with the feeling of the song and Tanner is playing bass faster than humans should be allowed to. For real, why was this band never the biggest in the world?
"Good Bye Blues" sounds pretty final (don't worry, there are two more LPs left) in both title and tone, it sounds like Harvey Milk giving their audience one last taste before they hang it up. Again. (You'll certainly note that there was a nine year gap between The Pleaser and Special Wishes.) That the band could disappear all over again was always on the table, and they do nothing to assuage that fear by playing the closing theme from Looney Tunes at the end of this album closer. And when I say "play", I mean they perform it. It's not a sample, it's the band playing the goddamned closing them from goddamned Looney Tunes
As far as bands that get back together - the dreaded reunion - when Harvey Milk got back together, they didn't coast on playing their hits, no; they picked up where they left off and kept moving forward. How's that for a reunion? And this slab of heavy was their second outing into the reunion. How can you beat that?
Next time on "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (The Band)...
2009's Harvey Milk

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