Some bands you listen to because you enjoy them, some bands you listen to because you think they’re interesting. Some bands you listen to because they’ve influenced others and you want to hear why, and some bands you listen to because you just have to find out what the fuck the big deal is. The latter is my experience with Harvey Milk, who since their 2006 reunion and subsequent releases on Hydra Head have officially become the rock the cool kids dig. When the chance came up for me to check out A Small Turn of Human Kindness, the latest from the Athens, Georgia, trio, I more or less popped it on just to see what it was all about. I remember seeing Harvey Milk open for Khanate in NYC a few years back, and I remember being neither over nor underwhelmed, but whatever, maybe something’s changed.
Not really. A Small Turn of Human Kindness sounds like a genuinely cerebral exercise, so it probably isn’t. Creston Spiers, Kyle Spence and Stephen Tanner present the album as one long piece, with various misanthropic titles spread across seven tracks, ranging from “I Just Want to Go Home” and “I Alone Got Up and Left” to the ominous “I Did Not Call Out.” As the vocalist and guitarist, Spiers leads the way through the songs, which lumber with a heavy foot in and out of doomed minimalism, feedbacked solos, and a spiritually downtrodden demeanor that feels genuine enough to get by tagged “authentic.” Tanner’s bass tone is low the way you think of trenches, and Spence’s drums are perfectly suited to accenting the best of both his bandmates. It’s not surprising, since Harvey Milk has been around long enough for A Small Turn of Human Kindness to be their seventh album with the band having broken up and gotten back together, but as power trios go, they more than earn their name. For its consistency of mood alone, A Small Turn of Human Kindness is unrelentingly heavy.
Everything I’ve ever seen or read about Harvey Milk compares them to the Melvins, and while I think that’s kind of a cop-out, I’m going to do it too, but the main difference between the two acts is that where Melvins offer payoff, Harvey Milk seems to only have more misery to share. A Small Turn of Human Kindness, perhaps contrary to what the title might suggest, has offers no hope, no light, no salvation. Things are down and they stay down. Perhaps what works best about the record is though that’s the case, it’s still an intriguing listen and you still want to come back to it again even though you know how the story ends. I don’t know enough one way or the other to say that’s the definitive reason for Harvey Milk’s hipster appeal, but they do seem to engage on an intellectual level in spite of themselves, and we all know those young architects and graphic designers like using their brains. Maybe Harvey Milk’s audience just had to grow into them.
It’s not a rocker, and dedicated doom heads probably won’t find much on A Small Turn of Human Kindness they haven’t heard before, but although in listening it may feel like Harvey Milk is holding you at arm’s length – don’t get too close now — the band does portray a genuine emotionality in their material, and these songs area drone heavy and drone evil. I doubt I’ll be back for many repeat listens, but I know they have an appeal that goes well beyond my jaded ass, and that there is a slew of new school kids out there who can’t seem to get enough. For them, this review is pointless, but for anyone on the fence in regards to checking out the band or album, you should know their sounds are not for the faint of heart or the short of attention span. A Small Turn of Human Kindness is a release that no doubt divides many opinions to one end or the other. I find I’m in the middle.
Tags: Athens, Georgia, Harvey Milk, Hydra Head