Harvey Milk's Previously Unreleased Debut Album Shows a Fully Formed Vision

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk (Hydra Head)

In 1993 an unknown band from the faded indie-pop epicenter of Athens, Ga., followed up a handful of vastly obscure singles with sessions for its debut album, recorded with engineer-to-the-indie-stars Bob Weston (of Shellac fame). The sessions were never released and the master tapes were misplaced—permanently, it now seems. The band would go on to record a proper first album, then another, both full of resoundingly weird metal-flavored form/patience-stretching experiments. They followed up with an album of what can only be characterized as boogie rock and disbanded in 1998.

The wider world eventually caught up to Harvey Milk and recognized the sui generis baroque neo-sludge of 1995's Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men for its brilliance. The band reunited in 2006 amid a deluge of deluxe reissues of its hard-to-find LPs, and a host of new fans sought out nth-generation dubs of the long-lost Weston sessions. Reconstructed from the best available bootleg copies, Harvey Milk at last sees an official release.

Listening to these recordings now is like looking at the band through the wrong end of a telescope—it is quintessentially itself, but smaller and more compressed. Almost all of the tracks ended up rerecorded and sprinkled across subsequent albums, but the more rudimentary versions here reveal that vocalist/guitarist Creston Spiers' idiosyncratic vision arrived fully formed, as did his tuneless cracker-Viking/pirate yowl. The Melvins-y grind and hustle of "Dating Pressures" and "PROBOLKOC" telegraph the lone identifiable outside influence, while the overdriven rave-up of the closing "Anthem" hints at a more conventional path not taken. More typical are the lurching riff of "Jim's Polish" or the epic water-torture dirge of "My Father's Life," and then there's "Merlin Is Magic," seemingly a perverse stab at a "hit" from the twee-esque title on down to its galumphing attempt at a melody. As with almost any Harvey Milk release, it's not for everybody, but you won't hear anything else like it not filed under "Harvey Milk."