Harvey Milk – s/t
We’ve all heard it said. Almost without fail any time an established band releases a new album, especially a new album that is well received and adds to the band new fans, someone (or some many) will say “Ehhh, I like their old stuff better.”
Reasons for liking a band’s earlier work are as diverse as reasons for liking a band at all, but what seems prevalent is this appeal to snobbery: “see, I liked this band first, before any of you people had ever heard of them.” This is especially true of independent bands as mass popularity usually depends on a large event or sudden exposure of some kind like going on tour with Death Cab, or getting signed to Elektra, or having a song on Gossip Girl or Weeds or something.
Whenever a band explodes like that, it is easy for the band to change (maybe likely) or for original fan’s perception of the band to change (definitely likely.) When indie bands have the backing of larger labels, recording budgets get bigger which means the records are more self-indulgent, production is glossier and over-compressed, the packaging is slicker and there is a glut of promotion everywhere which really makes it difficult for fans to suspend disbelief that the dudes in this band are “like me” and understand “my problems” which is really just to say we no longer relate. So, do I care that a band I was friends with in college but now they’ve lived in California for over 3 years is releasing their 4th album, 2nd on a major label, that they recorded in L.A. for 3 and a half months? Not really. Maybe it’s time to move on.
Well, that’s how it normally happens anyway. But it’s not always so cut and dry. Case in point: Harvey Milk. Harvey Milk’s original full-length record, the one that should have been their debut but was lost when the recording engineer disappeared with the master tapes, was finally released in January of this year. What had only been passed around on shitty, re-re-re-redubbed tapes and even worse sounding mp3s the past 15 years has been remastered, and given to us all to compare to the rest of their catalog (you can actually compare the remaster to the original here. The difference it pretty incredible.)
The release of s/t, the long lost Harvey Milk debut, had me scratching my head. How do you listen to a debut that never was? Is this 15 year old album relevant now? Was it then? What do fans think? Do they love it or hate it? Or are they indifferent to it especially since some of the songs have appeared in other forms on most of their later releases? And if they don’t like it, what does that mean for preferring their “old stuff”?
The record itself is eviscerating. It’s like the sound of falling bombs. Vocalist Creston Spiers’ sounds like a man slowly dying, as though gargling his own blood. It’s not the best sounding Milk record, but I think that makes it sound better. After all, Harvey Milk is known their sludge and what sounds better on a sludge record than a few layers of dirt, grime and tape hiss?
So what’s the verdict? Do fans like it, hate it or not care? I think it’s awesome, which puts me in the camp that believes aggressive bands make their best music early in their careers. Those that don’t may prefer their more “polished” efforts like 2007′s Life… The Best Game In Town or are more into their blues/rock than their doom/rock. The indifferent crowd is difficult to understand. I get being accustomed to the later versions of the songs, especially since they reflect Harvey Milk having played through the songs more, tweaking them here and there, and the old versions seem less finished.
I would wonder what both groups think of Harvey Milk’s latest release A Small Turn of Human Kindness. The band has described the record as a return to form: the “Harvey Milkiest record yet.” The slowest, and heaviest album they’ve ever done sounds much like 15 years ago, and I don’t think you can like that one and not like s/t too.
But then again, reasons for and against are as varied as liking the band to begin with. What camp are you?
Decibel interview with Creston Spiers
Invisible Oranges: 1 & 2
StonerRock.com review of s/t
MishkaNYC review of s/t
Self-Titled Mag: Harvey Milk Tears Through Their Discography Hilarious!
ALTSounds article on s/t
NYTimes Review of Harvey Milk live concert
No Rip Cord