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Harvey Milk Calls It Quits?

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It appears that the experimental sludge band Harvey Milk is throwing in the towel, or at least going on hiatus. From a Steel For Brains interview with drummer Kyle Spence that ran on December 3rd:

What’s the future for Harvey Milk? Are you guys currently writing new material? Or are you kind of taking a break?

Nothing planned. We went to Europe in May, and the UK, for three weeks, and we never really talked about it or anything, but we knew what we were doing was going to be the last thing we ever do for a while. I don’t know. Maybe we’ll play shows again at some point. I’m not ruling that out. Hydra Head went out of business – not that that was unexpected or anything, but that’s not really helping us get off our ass and write a new record. But yeah, I guess we’re taking a break. [laughing] I think it’s weird, because after our last record, I’m really not sure why anybody expects there to be another one. I thought it was sort of a good way to end.

That doesn’t sound good. Harvey Milk has reformed before (between ’98 and ’06), but as the members age, the likelihood of a reunion diminishes.

(Spence also discusses his thoughts on digital music in the interview. It’s nice to hear a musician who remembers the pre-mp3 age express something other than resentment for the format: “Anything has a chance now, which is awesome.”)

If this is truly the end of Harvey Milk, I will miss them dearly. Spence is at least right that their final album, A Small Turn of Human Kindness, is a good stopping point; it was my favorite album of 2010. Like Melvins, to whom they owe a debt, Harvey Milk stood alone in a style full of sound-alikes. They regularly veered from time-dilated heaviness to drunken vigor to straight balladry, sometimes within a single song. Harvey Milk’s live performances were triumphs of discipline and communication. The whole band would perfectly sync up unpredictable hits at extremely low tempos, which is a lot harder to do than it sounds.

Throughout Harvey Milk’s troubled career, the band’s members retained a frank, self-effacing sense of humor. (Check out Spence and bassist Stephen Tanner shit-talking their own catalog here. Spence’s good-natured jab at Hydra Head acknowledges, in typical Milk fashion, how discouraging it can be for a band when a trusted label partner goes under. This band’s apparent passing compounds the hurt from Hydra Head’s retirement as an active label. Go out and buy some music today, folks.

— Doug Moore

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