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Harvey Milk
A Small Turn Of Human Kindness Michael Dix , June 2nd, 2010 08:25

It's not unreasonable to believe that most bands, upon finding themselves in the enviable position of achieving simultaneous critical acclaim and universal fan-base adoration after years spent in the wilderness of “cult” status, could finally sit back and feel happy with themselves. One listen to A Small Turn Of Human Kindness reveals that Athens, Georgia's Harvey Milk are not one of those bands. Two years after their third incarnation released it's masterpiece Life… The Best Game In Town, they sound more pissed off than ever. In a recent interview, rhythm section Stephen Tanner and Kyle Spence slated their entire back catalogue, filling the article with (intentionally?) hilarious observations like “Most of these (songs) sound pretty terrible, which fits well with the quality of the writing and playing”. Strangely, this descent into even deeper despair has resulted in possibly the strongest singular statement of the band's career.

For many, what made Life so successful was its variety: it's ten tracks encompassed pretty much every musical avenue Harvey Milk had explored over the previous fifteen years, from the walls of droning feedback of their initial outings to the bar-room speed-punk of The Pleaser, through to the prog-math and nods to classic rock found on their 2006 reunion album Special Wishes. A Small Turn is named after the opening track from their debut album My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment Of What My Love Could Be, and fittingly sees the band return almost exclusively to that record's monolithic sludge sound. Designed to be listened to in one sitting, A Small Turn is more like a symphony than a rock album, each track segueing into the next with riffs carrying over from one track to another. Only occasionally does the music sustain any kind of linear structure for longer than a couple of minutes, and although Spence's drums shift restlessly through the gears, the pace never strays beyond varying degrees of “glacial”.

The untitled, instrumental opener sets the tone for what is to follow, a series of three-note guitar motifs ringing out like some opiated Spaghetti Western theme. With the slightest hint of an organ in the background, the space between the notes allows the drum blasts to reverberate like explosions in a mine-shaft. 'I Just Want To Go Home' continues the minimalist theme, down-tuned bass riffs punctuated by feedback and Creston Spiers howling like a bear with a sore head. 'I Am Sick Of All This Too' is basically a succession of false starts, teasing the listener into believing they might explode into a galloping punk track; instead, it segues into 'I Know This Is No Place For You', the album's most fully-formed song. Featuring A Small Turn's only really steady beat, it's also the closest Spiers comes here to singing anything remotely melodic. This respite doesn't last long though, as 'I Alone Got Up And Left' washes in like a sludgy river of bass, followed by the haunted whispers and glassy piano of 'I Know This Is All My Fault'. Only the closing 'I Did Not Call Out' hints at any kind of outside influence, its spiralling guitar riffs and numerous key changes paying explicit tribute to the emotional pull of well-executed classic rock.

For all the frequent comparisons to progenitors like Black Sabbath, Harvey Milk share as much common ground with fellow world-weary dry wits Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave, and while A Small Turn is resolutely melancholic, it is never depressing. The overall feel is as suffocatingly oppressive a throat-crushing death grip, but the band offer enough strategically placed musical up-turns to maintain interest and ensure that - for those who stick with it – another triumphant pay-off is never too far away. Where Harvey Milk stand in today's musical climate is hard to ascertain: too funny-odd to sit alongside the likes of Isis or Converge, too funny-haha to play nicely with Sunn O))) and the avant-garde. Once again, Spiers and company's inimitable combination of individuality and eccentricity pulls them further away from the pack, proving that while misery may indeed love company, Harvey Milk seem perfectly happy out there on their own.

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