Misery, so the saying goes, loves company, but on the evidence of the first solo record from Harvey Milk bassist Stephen Tanner it’s safe to say it thrives pretty well on its own too. The title of Tanner’s debut as Music Blues – Things Haven’t Gone Well, written and recorded at band-mate Creston Spiers’ house in Georgia whilst mourning the passing of a close friend (drummer Jerry Fuchs) and the end of a long-term relationship – may be slightly tongue-in-cheek (?) but it couldn’t be any more apt given the doom and gloom contained within its grooves; twelve slabs of monolithic instrumental sludge that make much of Harvey Milk’s heavy-as-hell discography seem positively upbeat in comparison. If the musical touchstones remain the same (Earth and the Melvins, Morricone’s dust-choked elegance, slow-motion takes on ZZ Top’s blues boogie and the flamboyant classic metal of Kiss and Judas Priest), here – stripped of Spiers’ soulful, injured grizzly bear bellow – Tanner’s cavernous, glacially-paced riffs become infinite cliffhanger moments, a giant steamroller perpetually bearing down on the listener as they struggle frantically to pull their feet out of the wet blacktop; lumbering bass grooves reverberate like aftershocks of an earthquake in a nearby town, and what drums there are sound like gongs heralding the arrival of the Grim Reaper himself rather than an instrument for keeping time or rhythm. Not that we’re left in much doubt as to our hero’s eventual fate: with each song named after an event or period in Tanner’s own personal history, from his birth (“9/17/71” and “Premature Caesarean Removal Delivery”) to teenage feelings of “Hopelessness and Worthlessness” and “Great Depression” and the later realization that “It’s Not Going To Get Better”, we have to assume the chances of a fairytale ending are slim, but when the results are this powerful it’s hard not to derive some joy from his suffering.
Things Haven’t Gone Well is out now via Thrill Jockey; check out “9/17/71” below.