Few albums in 2008 were quite as intriguing as Life…The Best Game In Town by the reformed noise rockers Harvey Milk. The band can’t really be described any other way. Contemporaries of the Jesus Lizard and Sleep in the early ’90s, their live shows are still dominated by the same pierced, tattooed droogs you’d find at those shows, and their fanbase is still dominated by people from the South and Midwest. But lately, the members of Harvey Milk have been appyling their sludge to much more intimate territory, and area they’ve never been to before (at least musically). A Small Turn of Human Kindness expands on the pathos of Life and takes it into much more experimental territory. Like its predecessor, the album is so stunning because of how little it resembles most anything else in the genre.
Life hinted at a new direction, with pockets of quietness mixed in with the noisy but still staying mostly within the confines of traditional rock songwriting. On A Small Turn of Human Kindness, Harvey Milk goes even further on some songs, which are mostly instrumental and sound almost classical in their nature. Lead track “*” recalls Life opener “Death Goes To The Winner” but with amped-up complexity. The rest of the tracks sound almost desert noise rock altogether, going into what occasionally sounds more like classical than it does noise rock.
There’s little precedent for this; the closest thing I can think of is “Owner’s Lament” by Scratch Acid, a song that mixed delicate synths with shrieking vocals and a harsh rhythm section. On some occasions, A Small Turn of Human Kindness extends that kind of thing even longer over multiple tracks: “I Know This Is All My Fault” is seven minutes of this kind of thing, and it continues through “I Did Not Call Out,” the album’s final track. These two tracks form nearly half of the album’s 38 minutes, and while you can pick out a number of moments where noise sets in, it seems like forever in between.
The traits of noise rock are all still here. Creston Spiers throat-sings in vintage metal fashion, and when guitars, bass, and drums do appear, they’re still in the Zeppelin-via-Melvins style that the band has always operated in. But A Small Turn of Human Kindness is a display of how confusing and frustrating growing up can be for those who base their life on discomfort, misery, and thrashing. While lack of tunefulness has rarely been an issue for noise-rock fans, A Small Turn of Human Kindness’s abstractness makes it a little less satisfying than its predecessor. But it’s still a fascinating product of one of the more fascinating bands working in the bowels of rock ‘n’ roll today.