Release DetailsLABEL Hydra Head
RELEASED ON 5/18/2010
A Small Turn Of Human Kindness
posted on 6/2010 By:
Generally speaking, self-awareness and metal don't go terribly well together. Too much critical distance from one's own work can squelch intensity and expose band members as the self-involved douches they often are. Besides, acknowledging weakness ist nicht krieg.
So what does it say that the members of Harvey Milk trash-talk their latest album, A Small Turn of Human Kindness? According to the band's rhythm section, they deliberately made the album "as pretentious as we possibly could," complete with "words about total bullshit" and songs named "in the most annoying fashion we could imagine."
These Georgian blues/prog/metal/clusterfuck lifers have a history of taking themselves to task. The above quotes come from an article in which bassist Stephen Tanner and drummer Kyle Spense belittle every single one of the band's releases, and frontman Creston Spiers has loudly proclaimed his contempt for their last album, Life...The Best Game in Town.
So are Harvey Milk just fucking with us? Is A Small Turn..., as they say, an elaborate joke on their fans? Judging by the album's gut-wrenching contents, it's hard to take that claim seriously. Their self-loathing, on the other hand, sounds more convincing than ever. A Small Turn... violently deconstructs blues-based rock music, reducing it to a tangle of go-nowhere guitar lines, mantra-like grooves, and noise, noise, noise.
The album's story of working-class failure is hard to decipher at first. Spiers's impossibly ravaged moan, one of Harvey Milk's most identifiable features, seems to swallow words whole. We're left to puzzle out meaning from the "annoying" song titles. Each is a declaration of mood or culpability--"I Just Want to Go Home," "I Am Sick of All This Too," "I Know This Is All My Fault."
The songs themselves are just as fractious and enigmatic. A Small Turn... is mostly linear; riffs drone on and on at glacial tempos, precariously piling on layers before vanishing suddenly. The cuts also tend to flow into each other, like the whole shebang was jammed out at a stretch and then dolled up with only the thinnest veneer of overdubbing.
But with repeated spins, the album begins to organize itself into something that resembles a narrative. Fragmentary chord progressions emerge from the murk and align themselves with plot points; a go-nowhere job, deadbeat fatherhood, a car crash, and an eventual suicide, all experienced or witnessed with world-weary fatalism.
And after a while, A Small Turn... almost rawks. Almost. Again and again, Harvey Milk reign themselves in just shy of the hook-slinging appeal that won them their surprise popularity during the late 90s. This album remains earthy but counterintuitive, full of deliberately frustrating pauses and slightly-wrong notes that corrupt otherwise-satisfying blues romps.
I don't doubt that Harvey Milk intentionally stymie such expectations. They'd probably claim that it's all part of the swindle they're perpetrating on their listeners. But A Small Turn...'s agonized performances and subtle sophistication silence the band's own self-effacing defense mechanisms. Judging by this difficult, fascinating album, we haven't been cheated by Harvey Milk. It is Harvey Milk who have been cheated -- by the tedium of life, by their smothered aspirations, and by themselves.
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