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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Harvey Milk - Self Titled (The Bob Weston Sessions)



Harvey Milk fucking rules. What other band do you know can play agonizingly slow Sabbathian sludge one minute, fast-paced ZZ Top inspired rock the next and then turn around and cover Leonard Cohen? They’re one of the heaviest, most metal bands around yet they don’t see themselves as a metal group. Even when they started touring with more extreme metal bands they were surprised to be well received by their audience.

They’ve been called a heavy noise rock group (akin to the Melvins) in the past but Harvey Milk basically consider themselves a blues band. So much so that the title of their new album was originally going to be “Music Blues.” Their new record is now officially called “A Small Turn of Human Kindness” (named after an instrumental track from the band's album “My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be”) and will hit shelves on May 18, 2010. Bassist Stephen Tanner talks about the name change in a recent Noisecreep interview:

"That was the title for the longest time. It was a title I came up with which basically means music sucks. It's blues so things are bad, or whatever…But lyrically Creston [Spiers] came up with something altogether different, so the title changed less than a month ago when he was doing the vocals."

The new album was written as one whole piece divided into parts, with Stephen suggesting that it could “read” as one big story. Whatever the case may be we can expect one monstrous slab of a record and they should have no problem following up their 2008 universally praised album "Life...The Best Game In Town." May 18th is a long time from now but luckily Hydra Head has decided to tide us over with “Harvey Milk - Self Titled,” a re-mastered re-release of the bands long-lost debut album.


Their first full length was recorded with Bob Weston in Chicago for 227 Records sometime in the summer of 1993. It was unclear why the album was never released but the tapes disappeared and was never heard from again (although there’s rumors that Ted from the Melts has them.) They have since re-recorded and released the songs from this session but there were still tape copies floating around Athens and Atlanta that eventually made its way to the internet. The bootleg being passed around sounded bad, and not “good” bad like in a kvlt black metal demo way or early Mountain Goats material, so needless to say it was frustrating to listen to.


Despite the horrible sound the album spread like wildfire, and soon the shitty sounding recording was getting attention from everyone, even Harvey Milk drummer Kyle Spence. Kyle didn’t join the band until their 1997 album “The Pleaser” but was a friend of the band since the beginning and had a tape copy of the lost sessions. They weren’t the master tapes but they definitely sounded better than the 5th generation deteriorated copies that were being passed around. He decided to re-master his copy and release it as a better representation of the debut than the bootleg gives.

The sound they got out of those cassettes were astounding, it sounds so good it almost makes me forget that the source wasn’t the master tapes. The warmth and overall rumbling grit of the recording is further proof that tape recordings sound better then the sterile, pristine digital recording methods used today. The opening bass notes of “Blueberry Dookie” hit a lot harder than I expected it to, and set the tone for the remainder of the album. Everything translated well, especially the vocals. It’s nice to know that Creston Spiers’ tortured, damaged howl is as crushing on their debut full length as it is on later releases. Apparently it isn’t the result of decades of Marlboro reds & lion roar imitation lessons, it’s sounded like that since the beginning. His voice sounds like it almost blends in with the guitars, which adds a wonderful trapped atmosphere to it. While this may not be an essential purchase given the fact that these songs have been previously released, it stands as a good introduction to new listeners. It goes without saying that the collectors will scoop this up, but I also suggest it to anyone who was a fan of the bootleg. Hydra Head was even nice enough to put up a website where you can not only stream the album, but compare the improved sound side by side with the Bob Weston Bootleg.

Hear the newly Remastered album VS The Bob Weston Sessions Bootleg

Buy the “Self-Titled” album and more Harvey Milk stuff at their Hydra Head Store

*Harvey Milk will be at
Subterranean with Coalesce in Chicago Saturday 3/13/10

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