Here are three facts about Harvey Milk. They are named after the openly gay San Francisco city supervisor assassinated by Dan White in the “Twinkie Defense” case. They hail from Athens, Georgia, the musical hotbed that gave the world the B-52’s and R.E.M. and the Elephant 6 bands and so many others. The band was most active in the early to mid-’90s, when the “alternative” music was made more palatable for mass consumption.
Looking at this pedigree, it’s almost impossible not to have a preconceived notion about what this band might sound like. Harvey Milk shatters these conceptions by making slow, heavy rock in the tradition of the Melvins and Sabbath. Life…The Best Game in Town, the band’s first album after a ten-year hiatus, offers ten choice cuts of literate, groove-heavy metal that rely more on complex interplay and epic guitar lines than pure bombast to make an impact.
The songs here often begin quietly and take unexpected melodic detours, but the main order of business is to be as heavy as possible. The thickness of the bass and guitar is reinforced by these interludes; the quiet passages offer a distinct contrast to the heavier parts of the album. The band varies this tactic to good effect on almost every track on the album, and the results rarely disappoint.
Two eight-minute tracks, “Death Goes to the Winner” and “Goodbye Blues” serve as epic bookends to the leaner songs on the album. “Motown,” nestled in the middle of the record, offers four minutes of perfect grinding bass, and “After All I’ve Done for You, This Is How You Repay Me?” focuses on a the heaviness that can be built from a single buzzing guitar.
Though structure is integral on Life…The Best Game in Town, the album also benefits from both experience and an infusion of new blood. Harvey Milk’s lineup has remained essentially unchanged from its formative years, and the band has reached a point of maturity. The addition of Joe Preston of the Melvins and Thrones brings another layer to the album’s sound. His inclusion with the band’s established lineup is another instance of contrast working for Harvey Milk, and setting Life…The Best Game in Town apart from the any misconceptions one might have about it.