Harvey Milk Special Wishes

[Megablade/Troubleman Unlimited; 2006]

You know, I have sat down to write about Special Wishes at least four
times, and within minutes I'm out of my chair thrashing my long, golden locks of
hair about the room in a slow-motion dirge. This is not an unusual reaction to
music as outrageously heavy and fucked as Harvey Milk's. The band's sense of
strange melodic depth isn't foreign to bands like Japanese amp-worshippers
Boris, but this depth goes beyond a wall of watts.

Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men (1997), arguably the band's masterpiece
(and certainly a fan favorite), was every bit as heavy as The Melvins, but an
aural anomaly of acoustic guitar and piano passages and Bedhead-ed indie-rockers
turned to unrelenting sludge. On Special Wishes, you won't find a
multi-movement epic like "Pinocchio's Example" or extended repetitions like an
Orthrelm gone doom. Given the context of their history, it should be realized
that Harvey Milk is a Southern rock band, albeit a simultaneously abstract and
distinct one. You need not look further than The Pleaser (2000), their
last record before disbanding, that completely embraced their ZZ Top/Led
Zeppelin/The Who-love for a full-on ROCK record.

After years of out-of-print releases and no Milk to be had, suddenly a singles
collection and a Kelly recording session were issued, and the band played
a week of life-altering shows in New York and Georgia. The packed Athens
performances proved rumors that the Milk had been working on new material (in
fact, you can hear yours truly yell "fucking sonuvabitch!" in disbelief after a
crushing "I've Got A Love" on the already essential Harvey Milk: Anthem
DVD). Concurrently with Special Wishes, Relapse Records has reissued
with bonus live material. Needless to say, the cult-like following
have new reason to rejoice.

The first three tracks undoubtedly favor the slow dirge of The Melvins, which
might disappoint those who dug the fucktitude of Courtesy, but the band's
still as confounding as ever by viewing seemingly disparate ideas on the same
aesthetic plane. Special Wishes' opening shifts from doom to chanting
rhythmic drone to swamp-throated blues without missing a beat. On the more than
appropriately named "Crush Them All," Creston Spiers holds thick, bent strings
as if an anvil has weighted down his hand. His voice does the same, an agonizing
howl with such heavy presence it makes me wonder if Spiers missed his calling as
a Delta bluesman.

Then there are tracks like "Once in a While," "The End," and "Old Glory," pop
songs too heavy to be pop songs, yet undeniably beautiful and graceful. Spiers
alternately coos and howls "Once in a While," a lighter-waving Southern rocker
while nearly shoegazing "The End" (I don't know how they did it, but Harvey Milk
managed to record the heaviest harmonics I've ever heard). "Old Glory," which
sounds ridiculously out of place on first listen, might be one of the band's
strongest lyrical and musical statements to date. It asks, "How do you think
old glory feels/ Displayed over battlefields/ After so long folded away?"

and continues to wonder about anthropomorphized symbols of nationalism's
reactions to our current state. Listening over and over to the acoustic song
turned full-on rocker, I can't help but think that The Drive-By Truckers are
kicking themselves for not having written "Old Glory" first — or at least
figured out that they don't need to write narratives to challenge unchecked

Special Wishes carries the gut-wrenching resonance I've always felt a
heavy record should. It's no coincidence that Harvey Milk occasionally covers a
man of such emotional intensity as Leonard Cohen (get the new 7-inch for a
B-side of "The Old Revolution"), because the band's detuned heaviness is not one
for the sake of being heavy, but one that's burdened and aching. The nearly
nine-minute atomic classic-/prog-rock bomb that closes the album, "Mothers Day,"
affirms in revelatory way that there is a desperate urgency to Harvey Milk, a
weight in sound actually engaged with its content.

1. I've Got A Love
2. War
3. Crush Them All
4. Once in a While
5. Instrumental
6. The End
7. Love Swing
8. Old Glory
9. Mothers Day


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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