Music

6 Minute Mile: The Race for Second

Stephen Haag

6 Minute Mile

The Race for Second

Label: Sonic Boom Recordings
US Release Date: 2003-02-04
UK Release Date: Available as import
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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.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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