If anyone in the band Harvey Milk was likely to branch out and release a “solo” album, you would probably expect it to be singer and guitarist Creston Spiers ahead of bassist, chef and short-shorts-enthusiast Stephen Tanner, right? But here we have it; Tanner, under the wholly appropriate guise Music Blues, is here to bring us Things Haven’t Gone Well which, eight months into 2014, must surely be the forerunner for “Downer of the year.”
As you’re reading this, it’s fair to assume that you’re aware of Harvey Milk, one of the most brilliantly confounding rock/metal/bar-room blues bands that the nineties ever produced – a band defined by their penchant for crushing everything in their wake, either by way of ultra-slow grinding sludge or breakneck barnstorming rock n’ roll. They’ve also been known to not give a solitary shit which has resulted in tracks full of abrasive noise, self-deprecating humour and mournful navel-gazing, as documented on their last album, the almost comically depressing A Small Turn of Human Kindness.
With this in mind, you’d imagine that it’d be difficult to stray further down the rabbit hole of despair that …Human Kindness hinted at, but you’d be wrong. Things Haven’t Gone Well is the result of Stephen Tanner trying (in the midst of a depressive fog) to write the new Harvey Milk album whilst staying on Creston Spiers sofa, doing little else but watching old repeats of Beverly Hills, 90210. That’ll do it, alright. As a result, and in almost every possible way, this is a more distraught, alienating and disturbing album than Harvey Milk has ever made. Naturally, Harvey Milk fans are in for a treat.
From the triumphant arrival of opening track 91171 to the comedic ending of closing song The Price Is Wrong, Things Haven’t Gone Well is a masterclass in negativity. At nearly every turn Tanner takes chords and whining guitar leads on downward spirals, twisting and turning, dragging you down into a vortex of abject misery (see Hopelessness and Worthlessness). Long, languid chords are allowed to spread their anguish tortuously across entire tracks (Premature Caesarian Removal Delivery and Trying And Giving Up), the repetition slowly numbing your senses over the course of the album, beating you into a some hazy form of submission.
Perhaps the most unnerving section of the album is the combination of the tracks Failure and Death March, the former featuring a cacophonous combination of queasy guitars and cavernous, snails-pace drums to create a creeping sense of malevolence. Just as these elements reach a kind of fever pitch at the song’s end, everything bottoms out, leaving just a sparse drum beat and a deep, walking bassline to slowly fade out in an incredibly creepy manner on the latter track.
Fortunately on the final three songs we are given a glimpse of something approaching the light of day, with the triumphant major keys in The Price Is Wrong and the Earth-like Tremendous Misery Sets In (ironically) seeming like the greatest feelings in the world. However, by this point in proceedings, this joyous outpouring feels like some mean psychedelic trick of the mind and that in fact a plateau has been reached wherein you can no longer be sure if you’re feeling highs or lows.
If you’ve seen the unnerving promo video for Things Haven’t Gone Well, in which music is set to a strange collage of casual violence, hollow game shows, and extreme terrorism, you’ll get a good sense of the mixed emotions being conveyed throughout the album, as well as the panic-inducing state of daytime television that served as the visual inspiration for the album. Through the use of queasy chord progressions, tortured lead guitars, rumbling low end and soul destroying repetition, Tanner is able to portray an incredible depth of depression that, while not always pretty, is incredibly powerful. Like much of Harvey Milk’s output, this is not for the faint hearted or those easily led to distraction, but if you stay with it the rewards are there. Hello darkness, my old friend.
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin