So here we are, 11 years after grunge kicked in the doors to the party, and Seattle bands have fully exorcised the ghost of Kurt. But in the case of Seattleites 6 Minute Mile, they're not using this newfound musical freedom to move forward, but instead looking for musical inspiration from the city that was The City Before Seattle -- Minneapolis. While 6MM -- guitarist/vocalist Jason Hughes, bassist Chuck Connell and drummer Jeff Roeser -- don't ape the Replacements or Hüsker Dü outright, they do capture the fuzzy, lo-fi spirit of those bands and their ilk, only with a somber, post-millennial outlook, on their Sonic Boom debut, The Race for Second. The modus operandi for too many rock bands of late is to make as much noise as humanly possible, musicianship be damned. It's strange, then, that 6 Minute Mile make as much noise as one would expect three guys to be capable of making. Yes, that's a compliment.
The order of the day for 6MM is unpretentious guitar rock; no musical sleight of hand here. While sometimes The Race for Second is a little too mannered -- none of the album's ten tracks jump through the speakers and reel you in with hummable hooks -- there's an undeniable warmth emanating from the album. Or maybe that's just the east coast heat wave. Either way, the band plays it straight throughout, though they drift into emo at times on tracks like "And You Call It Shelter" and "Who's Sorry Now" -- but this is not the stunning sonic move that it initially seems to be: Hüsker Dü was a proto-emo touchstone if ever there was one (think "Pink Turns to Blue", for example). And to invoke an '80s music scene further east than Minneapolis, The Race for Second's opener, "Not So Strong" finds Hughes approximating a fine J Mascis-y whine, but needless to say, Hughes's guitar can't match the Dinosaur Jr. frontman's pyrotechnics.
The Race for Second is an album that takes a few spins to warm to, but once it reveals itself to a listener, it's a very fine, stripped down, autumnal rock record -- only four months early. Or maybe I just don't know the weather in Seattle. Tracks like "Fire On the Moon" and "December" show a band comfortable letting atmosphere rule the day; there's an air of calm assuredness throughout The Race for Second. But before you save 6MM for that first chilly October day, be aware that they do in fact rock out. The back half of the short album kicks out the jams a little more, if that's your thing. The jangly "Pilot" shines a punkier light, and may leave listeners wishing that Hughes wrote a few more tunes like it, while "Who's Sorry Now" is a raging passive-aggression fest (answer to the titular question: a defiant "Not me!") and features an extended guitar passage from Hughes that lets the song stretch its rock legs.
There's a telling line in the press release that accompanied my copy of The Race for Second: "While [6 Minute Mile] does not promise a new sound, it is genuine and heartfelt". Moreover, the band's name says more about themselves than perhaps Hughes and company intended. I used to run cross-country way back when in high school, and a six-minute mile is a good, measured pace that might not win you the race, but will earn you a respectable showing. The Race for Second is simple, direct and delivers what it sets out to deliver. As I write this line I fear I'm damning the band with faint praise, so forgive me, but 6MM have crafted this year's finest unassuming rock record.