Things Haven’t Gone Well for Harvey Milk’s Stephen Tanner

Katie Capri

bathroom sink and cigarette butts

Meandering metal doesn’t have a happy-go-lucky effect. Neither does the new solo project from Harvey Milk bassist (and Brooklyn purveyor of fine fried comfort foods) Stephen Tanner, Music Blues. The harrowing, chest clenching steel-gray brand of metal is heavy and angry, but you can tell there’s a sense of hopelessness hanging over the heart of Things Haven’t Gone Well. The emotional load-bearing debut came out of Tanner’s bleak world-view after his close friend Jerry Fuchs (drummer for !!!, Turing Machin, LCD Soundsystem) passed in 2009.

Fueled by alcohol and 90210 reruns, Tanner’s depression foiled his attempts to write a new Harvey Milk record in the days that followed Fuchs’ death. In its place, Things Haven’t Gone Well was born. A concept album following the arch of Tanner’s life, opens with “91771” (his birthdate) goes into “Premature Caesarean Removal Delivery”. Juxtaposing “Teach the Children” with “Worthlessness and Hopelessness” is the first turn in the album’s 13-track road of decidedly grim plot points.

The opening track wallops the heart strings with the audio equivalent of the blunt edge of a metal saw. It’s metallic and foggy and filled with restrain, not by controlled effort but the sheer weight of feeling. You can almost hear Tanner’s efforts to move quicker, or move at all, being zapped by some intangible force weighing down on him. The percussion holds the greatest impact. The kick drum sounds like it’s really not a kick drum at all, just a mic knocking against Tanner’s sternum. The guitar aches in a fuzzed out wall of epic metal tones but the genre’s typical anger has been worn away by years of shit not going well. It’s resignation and bringing awareness to the absurd and the tragic from the perspective of one person on the outside of good luck looking in.

Stream “91771” below. Things Haven’t Gone Well is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

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