Aquarius’ Record of the Week – “Anthem” DVD

We’ve never hidden our love for Aquarius Records. It might be the best record store in the country that specializes in the special blend of musical geekery that we love here at Chunklet. And understandably, they love our new release. We’d also love to know who is planning to re-release the masterpiece that is "My Love…." if anybody knows.

So without further ado…..take it away, Andee….

So it took the rest of the world a while to catch on. Don’t be too hard on them. Harvey Milk are one difficult proposition. Don’t blame us though. We’ve been there all along trying to convince everybody just how brilliant this bafflingly bizarre sludge combo really was. Andee even reissued their seminal Courtesy And Good Will Toward Men album on his tUMULt label. And don’t blame Henry at Chunklet, the man responsible for this here document. In fact he was right there every step of the way, a one man Harvey Milk archivist and booster club. And of course we don’t blame you, loyal AQ list readers, cuz we know you feel the same way we do, you just can’t get enough of Harvey Milk’s pummeling, crushing, obtuse and confusional heaviness. Well for you, and for us, and for the heavy music lovers of the world who have yet to discover the difficult joy of Harvey Milk, life is is about to get a whole lot sweeter.
      Courtesy And Good Will is getting reissued again, on Relapse, any day now, there’s a BRAND NEW Harvey Milk record due sometime in the next month or so, there are rumors of a deluxe reissue of the long out of print Harvey Milk debut, a serious holy grail, My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be, maybe with an extra disc, and then there’s THIS. Four long years in the making, and it was worth every single second. Most of us who dig Harvey Milk, even those of us who might go so far as to say we are obsessed, never actually got to see the band play live. And this three and a half hour DVD collection of live shows spanning over 12 years is just as much a revelation as we knew it would be.
      From super grainy early live footage, when the band was much more of a punk rock, Touch And Go / AmRep sort of beast, you can, out of the corner of your eye, see the sludginess and fuckedupness creep up through the music, slowly and subtly infusing every song and sound with some ineffable something, that helped turn Harvey Milk into a band that sounded unlike any other band, then or now. Theirs was a career trajectory based entirely on getting weirder and sludgier and more obtuse and WAY more difficult and fucked up, a bit like the Melvins, but without the unexpected mainstream success and major label deal. Harvey Milk also unexpectedly shifted gears for a while, letting their ZZ Top obsession take control, and becoming impossibly groovy and rocking, which only lasted a single record before the band returned EVEN MORE damaged and slow and brutal, as if that was even possible.
      The band look so unassuming, frontman Creston Spiers just an every day Joe until he opens his mouth and unleashes that impossible low banshee-like howl, bass player Stephen Tanner, with his weird, fey, Doogie Howser look, goofy smile and even goofier sexy hip swivel. And the drums, the drummers… Harvey Milk’s songs are so full of space, so slow and stretched out, the drums are often the only thing holding the songs together. Whether they are shuffling in the background, or pounding out a massive slow motion throb, it’s the drums that allow the guitars to spin off into space and the songs to unfurl into confusing super spacious epics.

The Milk in NYC ’05 (photo by Scott Slimm)

      Probably the most amazing part of the disc is when Creston wields a sledgehammer, pounding an anvil in time with the downtuned bass and pounding drums, while howling in that anguished banshee wail of his. Normally it would be weird to see a band set-up like that — bass, drums and sledgehammer — but somehow, for Harvey Milk it seems perfect. Creston swaying back and forth, cradling the hammer like it was a guitar, while the band pounds out a sludgy dirge behind him. So good! Woven in to the older material are plenty of long slow drawn out moody post rockisms, with drifting simple mournful melodies, and mumbled crooned vocals that eventually build into the epic whirls of swirling sludge we hold so near and dear to our hearts.
      The biggest surprise here is how much footage there is from the band’s  "ZZ Top period," a stretch that on record only lasted a single album, but live seemed to have spanned several years. A wild and hair twirling, head banging super groovy sort-of-Southern rock with howled and yelped superrock vocals, less obviously sludgy, but still ultra heavy. This was never really a favorite sound for lots of Milk fans (although it is Allan’s favorite) but seeing these songs performed live is enough to convince us that maybe we were WAY off and this stuff is some of the best Harvey Milk EVER!!!
      It sounds like southern rock filtered through the Melvins. Or Ram Jam played by the Corrupted. It’s just so awesome to watch with drummer Kyle Spence’s massive Boham-esque kit (complete with Bonham’s logo on the bass drum head) a huge gong,  just tearing it up Bill Ward style holding the whole thing together… And because of the film stock and the sound and the style, it’s almost feels like watching some recently unearthed German television footage of some ultra heavy long lost proto metal band from the seventies, they even whip out a little "Pinball Wizard!" Someone needs to reissue The Pleaser now. C’mon!! Maybe we just weren’t in the right frame of mind when it first came out, but we’re pretty sure that record would kick our asses now!
      After that, the band sort of drifted off and disappeared, before resurfacing in 2005, as a much grungier, hairier looking Milk, all jeans and long hair and Voivod t-shirts, and they sound like it too. A return to the impossibly glacial dirge of Courtesy, but even heavier and somehow more even more fucked up sounding. Like Sabbath at 16rpm, massive lumbering, blown out sludgerock divinity. How many ways can we say it. WE LOVE HARVEY MILK!!! THEY ARE WITHOUT A DOUBT ONE OF THE GREATEST BANDS OF THE LAST 20 YEARS!!
      There’s also a DVD Easter egg (thanks Jace!): just go to the credits menu and push up until "40 Watt ’93" is highlighted, for some footage from an April Fool’s show where the band tackle three R.E.M. covers, taken from a show where the band covered R.E.M.’s Reckoning in its entirety. Seriously! (the also once did a whole set of Hank Williams covers, let’s pray someone has a tape of that stashed!) It’s pretty dang cool to see one generation of Athens rock take on another. And they don’t really sludge it up all that much, playing ’em pretty straight, but managing to make them -almost- sound like Harvey Milk originals!
      Also included is a four song 3"cd containing previously unreleased, super rare tracks, one of which is their version of R.E.M.’s "South Central Rain"!!!
      And of course the packaging is breathtaking. Designed by Stephen O’Malley and Henry Chunklet, it’s a gorgeous oversized DVD style, fold over interlocking cardstock sleeve, greenish brown, with O’Malley’s instantly recognizable graphic shards in dark brown, the title in embossed reflective silver, inside copious liner notes from Henry printed in metallic silver, the back has an angular H and M diecut, through which you can see the inside sleeve, a black folded cardstock gatefold with silver metallic ink which houses both the DVD and the 3" cd affixed to the inside on little nubs. So awesome!