20 July, 2013

The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (The Band), Episode 6: Harvey Milk

A Sound Design and Assembly Original Miniseries
Produced by M. Martin
Tonight: 2009's Harvey Milk
Written by Charlie Pauken
So here's the story with the first Harvey Milk record. You see, back in '94, some guy wanted to put Harvey Milk out on his label so the band recorded this record and sent him the master tapes, leaving themselves with only one cassette copy, which is pictured on the front cover, here. Then the guy with the master tapes up and disappeared, Hoffa style. Bootlegs of the first Harvey Milk record have been floating around on the internet ever since and the band thought it was time to give their "unofficial" first record a proper release. But how? They didn't have the master tapes, just the cassette of the rough mix.
You are listening to the cassette of the rough mix, mastered by the band's drummer, Kyle Spence. (The drummer on the record is Paul Trudeau).
To tell you the truth, it doesn't sound bad but maybe that's because I've been listening to sludge metal on cassette since the Earth cooled. It's as natural to me as never having been breast fed.
The songs on Harvey Milk are mainly from My Love...: "Merlin is Magic", "My Father's Life' Work", "Jim's Polish", and "F.S.T.P.". A scary assed version of "Plastic Eggs" from Courtesy... makes a showing and "Dating Pressures" and "Anthem" from The Kelly Sessions (the one I don't have) also show up. The three "new" songs include the album opener, "Blueberry Dookie", which, OK, I'll admit it: that's the one that sounds like a Melvins song, "Probölkoc", and "Smile".
Saying "Blueberry Dookie" sounds like a Melvins song is probably a bit detrimental to the band but I have to admit that it sounds like it would be right at home on Lysol. Even the vocals in the breakdown or chorus or whatever that section is supposed to be sound a bit like Buzzo. This is not a bad thing; after all, Lysol was probably the last great stoner-doom-drone-whatever record to be associated with the Melvins name. The issue here is that "Blueberry Dookie" was supposed to be Harvey Milk's opening salvo on the public, basically picking up where Melvins left off when they went to make Houdini. And just to drive a nail further into Melvins' dynasty's coffin, Harvey Milk followed it up with "Plastic Eggs", which, as I mentioned earlier is scarier than shit. It's oppressiveness comes from the mix of grandeur and claustrophobia, it's basically the sound of the giant murder engine thing at the end of Caligula.
"Merlin is Magic" has a fairly different sound. It's played the same but I can pick out different notes in the chords and the recording of the breakdown sounds almost like it came out of a Naked City session; it's a much clearer recording and, side-by-side with the version off of My Love..., I think I would be hard pressed to pick a superior one.
"Dating Pressures" is pure awesometasticness. If you haven't turned your stereo up yet, you will for this one. I want to say it reminds me a bit of Rapeman's "Trouser Minnow", what with Creston's sprechstimme vocals buried under the tension-building descending up-down dyad progression verse. But then the chorus comes in and breaks your fucking coffee table and punches a hole in the drywall.
"My Father's Life's Work" sounds pretty much like the version on My Love...
"Probölkoc" shows off Trudeau's talent for syncopated drum patterns - which, by the way, I've tried counting to at least three times so far and I'm not even sure this is in a three or four - while Creston and Tanner take the rhythmic lead, and they take it all over the place, too, going from a simple, chugging figure to punk and noise breaks. It's essentially what math rock ought to be.
"Smile" is a rumbling little bit with an aggressive snare-on-the-down-beat drum track and heavily echo'd vocals that could easily be a Damaged outtake. This is the one that the younguns will break the furniture to as they scream along the words they don't know. So hire a babysitter. I once read a review of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" (song, not record) that said that "Paranoid" was (and I'm paraphrasing from memory here) "the finest minute and fifty seconds of white boy angst". Well, "Smile" is two minutes and thirty five seconds and it's better than paranoid. I don't know if you have to be white or angsty to get down with this song, but it certainly is young and masculine (not macho) sounding. The song ends with a sample of a stadium crowd cheering.
"Jim's Polish" and "F.S.T.P." are pretty much how we found them on My Love..., though "F.S.T.P" has a xylophone on it.
"Anthem" sounds like it should have been on The Pleaser - Wait. It was on The Pleaser, at least my copy has it. That's fucking weird. Over at RYM, "Anthem" is not listed as being on The Pleaser. Well, anyway, this version includes a nice blues breakdown and solo that isn't featured on the version that I guess is on my copy of The Pleaser but no other ones or something. OK.
No really, this bugs me out. Maybe RYM is wrong. I mean, it is based on user submissions like Wikipedia. And we know how trustworthy Wikipedia is.
So, anyway, Harvey Milk is probably more for completists, truth be told. It's just got early recordings of songs you can find on other records. These are still good versions, though; like I said, "Plastic Eggs" is scarier than hell and "Merlin is Magic" is definitely worth checking out for exhibiting what the difference in recording technique alone can reveal. And there's some stuff you wouldn't have heard otherwise.
Next time on "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (The Band)...
2010's A Small Turn of Human Kindness, which M. called dibs on.

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