The Mitchells – Slow Gears

The Mitchells
Slow Gears

Let’s pretend for a moment that the Mitchells really are a family. Staunchly middle class, with twin sons of 14 years, Mark and Bethany have lived in Northampton, Massachusetts since 1987, when Mark moved to the town to pursue a career in hardware sales. He started out on the floor at Home Depot, specializing in lumber and PVC, before moving to a managerial position at Ace and, in 2000, opening his own shop, Mitchell and Sons. Mark soon became one a highly successful local businessmen, earning the loyalty of Northampton patrons with his easygoing manner and periodic 75% off sales; it is widely believed that his store drove Scotty’s out of business in the area, and he is considering opening a new branch in nearby Hadley. Bethany has lived in Northampton for as long as she can remember, though she was born in Concord. She currently helps in the shop and takes the kids to and from school every day. Twin boys Matt and Martin are among the most popular at the local middle school, where both sit the bench for the basketball team. Matt is the more gifted athlete, while Martin shows talent in chess and at the piano. Their Sunday school teacher is quite certain that a bright future awaits them both.

That, at least, is how I see it. Here, in fact, is a band from Northampton that has been playing since 1994, practicing, writing, touring, and recording when they’re not doing the work-a-day thing, and I bet they’ve had some damn good times over the years. But Slow Gears, their third album in a dozen years, is as middle-of-the-bell-curve as a red Ford Taurus, and, like the Mitchell family described above, it’s not passionate enough to do anything about it. To end up in the middle of the bell-curve (as opposed to the left), of course, you have to do as much correctly as the guy to your right, and the same is true of this album: there are points when the guitars make things interesting enough to draw your attention, or the Mitchells take advantage of the melody that’s fallen into their laps and develop it as much as it demands. For the most part, however, it’s no more compelling than a small-town newspaper.

Singer Caleb Wetmore tries hard to write lyrics that pull the band out of the rut, but frustration stalks in nevertheless; he sings, on opener “Still Might Happen,” that “It still might happen/ It’s hiding over the next hill…Don’t look for us outside/ We haven’t made it outside yet.” His intonation recalls Minus the Bear, but where that lauded outfit sing about racing yachts and hydroplaning Cadillacs, we have here the stuff of maybes and almosts. Instrumentally, The Mitchells hybridize Spoon and The ’89 Cubs, but they abandon the fundamentalism of the former without undertaking the adventurousness of the latter, effectively penning an homage to urban sprawl. The real problem here, potentially difficult to swallow, is that there are hundreds of bands and albums that do exactly the same thing with exactly the same capacity. I mean, what is there to recommend an album when one can turn around and hear the same thing at a local open mic night? Essentially, this is how the Mitchells strike me: a good local band that can serve as the stay-at-home mom for a local scene. And hopefully that’s what they’re content to do, for unless they can make a legitimate stab at originality, they’ll no more make it “outside” than I’ll win American Idol.