Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men
ne year after an enigmatic and powerful debut, Harvey Milk responded with a volatile mixture of ruthless experimentalism and gonad aching rock more recondite than its predecessor. Far too few sang its praises; Relapse had the wherewithal to get it back on the shelves and now the disc gets proper and deserved reconsideration with a bonus live disc to boot.
Cribbing a phrase from FDR’s radio address to the fighting men of the Merchant Marine in the midst of ‘43’s yuletide season, Creston Spiers, Stephen Tanner, and Paul Trudeau offered up their own version of illogical indifference in the face of impending doom. “Pinocchio’s Example,” a surging roman candle in the midst of the village for the blind, feeds bulls fistfuls of amphetamines and sends them trouncing over Bartok’s oeuvre. A repeating piano figure gets the parrot treatment from hi-hat, guitar, and bass. Eventually Tanner drops anchor into unexplored depths and blasts to the surface bent and blue impossibly locking into place with drums and guitar, an assembly line groove operated quick and greasy.
The Mastodonic heaviness is still there and the arrangements are defiantly more challenging than before. Pieces plotted and set into motion sounding simultaneously like academic exercises and hyperbolic takes on the FM triumphant. Some stand tall and fall thunderously. Others bloat, pop, and implode as if penned by some agoraphobic composer with caterpillar brows and an unpronounceable surname. Others piddle and fiddle like an ambulating Yankee transplant on a Florida beach. Harvey Milk walk the long sonic slogs as he walks the hot white stretches. – His swollen sun-scarred feet, formless doughy legs, varicose. The metal detector’s blue plastic halo ticks slowly above stinging sands. When the oppression threatens hermetic, the ballad creeps in, shaking out the curtains of a dusty old home. Creston’s hoary croak winds down into a heavy whisper. Painful lyrics are accompanied by upright piano, its tones tired and domestic, smelling of dog hair and moldy volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica. Extra-musical implements are also from the domestic realm: where Creston once slung the sledge, the hairdryer is now brandished—a wash of white noise accompanied by falling forlorn chords. Indisputable despair fills this record’s throat. Each song either asphyxiates on its own construction or vomits in steady and ponderous streams. Stragglers have no choice but to step through the chuck in measured and pained lethargy.
When the depression is lifted, Harvey Milk settles for nostalgia; loosening Ace’s rump rock riffs into limp confusion and weaving them into massive steel buttresses. Kiss’ “I Want You” even makes an unthinkable cameo, a rising sun intro to “Sunshine (no sun) Into the Sun”—a song besotted on its own sadness, its long gray trunk moping through pissed upon love letters, flame engulfed first fuck photos.
Even with the ponderous effect, the band ably walks the sonic tightrope. For those not so nimble on their feet, surprise will abound with a tighter look at the record. The tools at their disposal were few; Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men demonstrates successful ways to deploy them. Ask any functioning alcoholic and they’ll immediately offer that the most perfect way to create a cocktail is with the fewest ingredients. Harvey Milk never crowded the glass with chaff. Even when they were busy pouring over scores and counting bass/drums/lung-clearing shrieks into infinity, less was more than enough. For open minded men and women, where the drink of choice was bottom shelf gin in a dirty tea glass garnished with a gherkin, Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men was always an agreeable tonic for past and for future, forever and always.