I received a email from Barsuk Records about their 15th anniversary. They announced a bunch of special shows at landmark venues around Seattle featuring some of their landmark bands, including Nada Surf, Mates of State, David Bazan, Rocky Votolato, The Long Winters, and Death Cab for Cutie.
As the email pointed out, The Long Winters’ When I Pretend to Fall is 10 years old. This got me thinking about how excellent this album is.
Yes, this album came out in 2003 but I was not aware of it until a few years later. As a someone who listed to a lot of pop-punk in those days, I was constantly yearning for something a little more adult as I completed my first years of college. I wanted smart, fun and emotionally-aware music to soundtrack my walks to class and study sessions.
When I first heard this album something just clicked. It has a lot of those pop-punk sensibilities I loved but took the aesthetic a bit further. As with a lot of Seattle indie-rock, The Long Winters are a smart band with smart lyrics. Their songs are built around common emotions and experiences. Their albums touch upon alienation, love, and introspection. John Roderick is consistently one of the funniest men in indie-rock (along with Jon Wurster, of course) and as a result, here is something so enchanting about the songwriting method and instrument style.
The album begins in a typical way. “Blue Diamonds” is a song where the slow drums and vocals rein supreme. As the song continues, more elements enter the song (including back-up vocals and some other brass instrument).
There is that accessibility built into the songs, like on “Shapes,” Roderick sings “Secrets/ Secrets/ Damn your secrets!” “Cinnamon” explores being in-love and is followed up “Bride and Bridle,” which seems to be about being strapped down and feeling anxious.
There is an acoustic song about being careless and free (“It’ll Be a Breeze”), followed by “Stupid,” a song about being wrapped up in another and taking chances.
(I just realized Sean Nelson from Harvey Danger does back-up vocals on this track! Note: he is a former member of TLW, with other well-knowns)
“The Sound of Coming Down” is a sad song about (relationship?) decline. The instrumentation and harmonies slowly draw you into acceptance; sometimes things deteriorate and you need to accept it and move on.
The Long Winters use energetic harmonies. This is especially apparent in “New Girl” where “No You are!” is repeated in the background of song. It feels like a sing-along that I would love to be part of.
“Prom Night at Hater High” is a delightful jaunt full of parody that seems to be about going back to your hometown to find that you don’t understand anyone anymore. Who hasn’t felt alienation when being in the presence of hometown heroes? He seems like a guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. In an increasingly humorless world, this attitude is quite refreshing. My favorite part was always: “So won’t you quit talking down to your girlfriend/ Oh, I see, you’re not fighting, you’re flirting/ Well I hope it’s exciting.” One cannot listen to this without imaging Roderick’s gap-teethed smirk.
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This album was followed by Ultimatum EP and Putting the Days to Bed, an LP that seemed like an attempt at mainstream. The former featured two version of “Ultimatum” including a finger-picking version that is great. The latter had some great tracks, including a song that got played on some NPR called “Fire Island, AK” and one of the catchiest opening tracks ever (“Pushover”).
I always feel like this band doesn’t get the recognition that they deserve. Maybe it has to do with the fact that The Long Winters haven’t released an album since 2006 (even though Roderick claims one is coming soon-ish).
If you are a fan of smart indie-rock, I’d suggest checking out this band. The themes continue to resonate and with each listen, I feel refreshed and eager for some new material.
But if there isn’t new material, I am perfectly happy with these three albums and one EP that have held up for 10 years and will probably hold up for at least 10 more.
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Here is a video from 2012, where John Roderick preforms “Prom Night at Hater High” at the Showbox. It has a little bit of his signature banter and acoustic guitar picking.
Check out Roderick On the Line, a weekly comedic podcast featuring Roderick and Merlin Mann talking about stuff on the phone.
He also has a very funny twitter (@JohnRoderick), where he shares musings about life and often converses with his friends (who happen to be John Hodgman and others)