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Harvey Milk - Courtesy And Goodwill Toward Men

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Artist: Harvey Milk

Album: Courtesy And Goodwill Toward Men

Label: Relapse

Review date: Oct. 25, 2006

The discipline of prog. The reductive aesthetic, sloppy nihilism and dark humor of the AmRep roster at its finest. Hatred on loan from God. Harvey Milk was a rare monster.

The early ‘90s marked a cyclical depression in the Athens, Ga., music scene, and nothing says “depression” like Harvey Milk. Steve Tanner and Paul Trudeau comprised the most brutal rhythm section since the ascendance of Swans. Creston Spiers tortured his guitar and groaned like wounded livestock. Together, they covered R.E.M., scared a few people, and provided a bracing antidote to numb complacency.

Harvey Milk was never a “fun” band (although live recordings, like the one paired with the Courtesy And Goodwill Toward Men reissue, show how galvanizingly funny the band could be), and during its time, its success was on the slim side of nothing. Its statement-of-purpose LP My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment Of What My Love Could Be was issued forth in ’95 from Yesha, a bold little NC label that promptly shit the bed. In short order, Courtesy And Goodwill, the band’s Carburetor Dung, appeared and disappeared with a comparable lack of fanfare. But the Milk endeared itself to a small but powerful fanbase, and with the current wave of geekdom surrounding misclassified “doom metal,” the band’s stock is back in play.

HM may have won its rep through focused aggression, but Courtesy draws its strength through contrasts. It’s a relentlessly complex record. As long as the world rewards relentlessness more than complexity, it remains destined to be misunderstood. But few such albums will provoke such glorious misunderstandings. Let the record show that, back in ’97, rock music did not show up for its mock execution. But the night is young.

The piledrivers (“Pinnochio’s Example,” “Plastic Eggs,” “My Broken Heart Will Never Mend”) are drawn-out staring contests, focused, furious meditations that confront and then hypnotize. They go on, sometimes for 10 minutes or more. They are what Harvey Milk does best, done as well as they ever were.

And they co-exist so well with the ballads. That’s right, ballads. For what else does one call the hungover and defeated drag “I Feel Miserable,” the straight cover of Field Commander Cohen’s “One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong,” or “The Lord’s Prayer” delivered in a submissive croak and set to a spare piano track? I call them ballads. I call them sunshowers in purgatory. On a slab as intimidating and overwhelming as Courtesy, they’re perplexing, then exhilarating.

By Emerson Dameron

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