REVIEW: The Long Winters: When I Pretend to Fall
The Long Winters: When I Pretend to Fall [Barsuk, 2003] (mp3s)
Three words? addicted to sunlight
For all the charms of art-rock, hip hop and anti-folk, jangly guitar pop reigns eternal. Something about my childhoot diet of Beatles records has ensured that no matter how deeply I become mired in other genres, albums like When I Pretend to Fall - whimsical, bright, melody-packed - hit me like sunlight to the eyes; I'm dazzled, I stagger, and then I look again.
If doctors prescribed music instead of medication, Nick Drake would have O.D.ed on "Crazy in Love," and R. Kelly would be undergoing a Merzbow treatment. For those of us suffering from New Pornographers-induced headaches, there would be the Long Winters. I can imagine the waiting-room posters:
Is the SHRILLNESS of joycore getting you DOWN?
Does Electric Version feel like a BLUDGEON to the HEAD?
Do you crave whipsmart lyrics, juicy tunes and perfect harmonies, without the multitracked migraines?
Try THE LONG WINTERS, new from Barsuk.
(Consult your Doctor.)
Lest you think that When I Pretend to Fall is merely methadone to the New Pornographers' heroin, however, (that is, it's the wussy-can't-take-the-heat-equivalent,) rest assured that the new Long Winters album is way better than Electric Version. It's double-heroin, or something. Sure, it may not knock you straight out like Neko Case's vocals do, but it'll send you to happy-glittering places with melodious craft, and you'll never bitch that all the songs sound the same. Plus: mandolins.
(I did say mandolins. On "Cinnamon," in particular. I came to the conclusion, several months ago, that mandolins are the best instrument in pop music, that any pop-song with a mandolin suddenly leaps onto the Best Music of the Year fast-track. If that Beyonce track had a mandolin, I think I'd explode: I'd flame out somewhere over Fort Lauderdale, messy, joyous, yellowhot.)
I apologize for my exuberance: it's a symptom of records this delightful. John Roderick and his band have progressed in astonishing ways from their muddy-and-cliched indie rock debut, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm. As part of Harvey Danger, Roderick made one of the great unappreciated alt.rock albums of the 90s: Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone. Now, with Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson, Michael Shilling, Eric Corson, and contributions from Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star), Sean Ripple (American Analog Set), and producer Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie), the Long Winters have painted an alt.rock masterpiece for the new century: vivid hues, full arrangements, lyrics about girls, brightness, bulls'-eyes, falseness and love.
"Scared Straight" is a bouncing hit of a tune, horns booming under call-and-response vocals, a caressed chorus ("Seeeeem tired!" Yes!!!), drums that accelerate to doubletime, full of doubts and resentment and renewed passion. The piano-and-stringes of "Blanket Hog" is as languorous as morning, slow-building to its cacophony of electric guitar and violins, closing with a note-perfect string quartet. The organ solo on "Shapes" is like the wise spoken-word bit during the middle-eight of an Inkspots song, "Prom Night at Hater High" busts out a surprise country jamboree, hee-hawing as Roderick (fiddle-fuelled) makes fun of "the pod people on prom night." "Nora" takes a page out of Harvey Danger's song-book, echoing piano hammered with an asteroid-sized bassline. The aforementioned "Cinammon" is a magnificent, blushing lovesong. It's all here, ladies and gentlemen.
Which isn't to say that "Stupid" and "Blue Diamonds" never wear thin, the whimsy of their choruses wearing through their welcome. But things like this tend to happen when a record is on walkman-repeat for five days. I don't blame the Long Winters: I blame myself. This doesn't sound like a record which thinks it's something monumental and life-altering. It wants to be an intelligent entertainment, a friend and not a lover. When I Pretend to Fall won't bring on the Ice Age or reinvent the wheel, but I bet it likes ice-cream and would ride with me on a bicycle over the mountain, pointing at squirrels and watching the picnic-blankets unfurled, the hands held over red-and-white plaid.