10 Years Later: The Long Winters’ When I Pretend to Fall

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)

Earlier this year, he wrote a piece for Seattle Daily entitled Punk Rock is Bullshit.

Does It Hold Up?: The Format’s Intervention and Lullabies (2003)

From TV to radio, people are raving about this band called fun.  Moms, grandmas, tweens, Lena Dunham, everyone seems to be talking about this band. That “We are Young” song is inescapable. My Facebook Newsfeed blew up during their two night stint at Hudson River Park (where they were supported by Tegan & Sara, who I adore).
(Note: I happen to enjoy Aim and Ignite. I have not heard this latest album.)
Every time I hear a fun. song I think of The Format – a little band from the early 2000s fronted by Nate Ruess (currently lead singer of fun.).  In 2003, Ruess and Sam Means released Intervention and Lullabies.  I fell in love with this album during 2004’s Skate and Surf Fest, in Asbury Park, NJ.  I remember a diminutive Ruess singing without his shoes on, while Means backed him out on acoustic guitar. It was very memorable as a 17 year old.
So I thought in honor of fun’s recent success, I’d do a re-listen of Interventions and Lullabies and share my thoughts.
Here we go! Time to press play! 
Ok. This is already 10x better than “We are Young.” The thing I always liked about The Format was their album to fuse bouncy melodies with largely depressing song lyrics. The melodies, harmonies, and light drum beats are coupled with lyrics about alienation, friendship, and family. Its bitter without being cynical.
Lyrics like “When I’m with you/ there’s no point in breathing” (from “Tie the Rope”) sum-up the “I love you” and then “I hate you” sentiment (Only now am I reminded of that “When I’m with you/ I feel like I could die/ and that would be all right” lyric from 3EB’s “Semi-Charmed Life”).
Every song is about the tension of relationships (romantic, friendship, family). “Tune Out” seems to be about problem avoidance. “A Mess to be Made” was always a stand-out track.  It really highlights the struggles of being a youth who cannot seem to do anything right. It has tint of banjo twang, a very popular device these days.
“On Your Porch” is an epicly-slow and heartbreaking song about family struggles and your past. It starts out quiet, like an Iron & Wine song, and then builds. Vocally, Ruess starts out alone and then is joined by Means; Means’ guitar is the common thread. It still kills me.
As this song ends, its hard not to feel like an emotional wreck.  But then, joy comes back for “Sore Thumb,” another bouncy song about failed relationships.
Why is Ruess so angry!   Why has every girl (or friend) been a total disappointment! I feel like a teenage fan-girl who just wants answers!
Conclusion: This album absolutely holds up.  There are many different types of songs on the album and each of them seamlessly blend into one another. There are slow ballads (“On Your Porch” and “A Save Situation”) and clap-along singles (“The First Single” and “Wait Wait Wait”).  All 12 songs are pretty great.  Many albums of the 2000s featured those in-between chorus breakdowns.  This album is no different. The lyrical themes still resonate.
Maybe not much has changed since 2002. And maybe I’m OK with that.

Does It Hold Up?: Yellowcard’s One For the Kids (2001)

I have a very vivid memory of being in Asbury Park, leaving the Skate and Surf Fest and being approached by a young man who asked me if I knew who Yellowcard were. As i answered yes, he inquired if i could name any songs not from 2003’s “Ocean Avenue.” I replied by listing titles from “One For the Kids,” which came out two years earlier.  He was impressed, gave me a high-five and I continued to walk down the boardwalk. 

I loved this album in 2001.  I thought the use of violins was so “interesting” and cool. The lead singer was a hottie. That is all i needed in the early 2000s.

When I queued One for the Kids up on Spotify, I was immediately reminded how great the first track, “Starstruck,” is. I thought this was going to be a no brainer! Of course this album is great!  And then song #2 came on. “Drifting Away” is a nasely mess.  Skip!   “Something Value” is an acoustic gem. Okay, album redeemed. Powering through all the following songs was painful. “Cigarette”  was the only other track I could listen to in full. 

In a few words, this album does not hold up.  It has a few good songs.  But this is just an example of when teenage nativity takes over the eardrums.  

But boy did this band make violins cool….and I will always love “Something of Value.”  It is one of the meanest songs ever.

Does It Hold Up?: Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American (2001)

Jimmy Eat World was formed in the early 1990s in Mesa, Arizona. They were one of the major players in the early emocore scene.  Bleed American was actually their third album (released in 2001).  The sound was more towards a pop-punk sound than their previous melodic and dreamy recordings, Static Prevails and Clarity, released in 1996 and 1999 respectively. 
As a whole, the album is upbeat and hopeful. It features catchy pop-punk melodies and sing along lyrics focusing on the anxiety of being a teenager. 
It starts with the title track.  It is an aggressive anthem about being young.  Like many of their songs, the breakdown is a strong chorus that makes excellent use of lead singer Jim Adkin’s voice.  It blends right into the second track, “A Praise Chorus.” Again, this song is another sing-along classic. During their live shows (at least the two I’ve seen), it is always a crowd pleaser.  
The third track, “The Middle,” was actually a mainstream hit. It was supported by a memorable video, with half-naked dancing young adults.  No one can ignore how catchy that whole “It just takes some time…” chorus is.  It is an anthem of teenage years. This will always be one of my favorite songs.  
The album just rolls along with one catchy song after another.  “Sweetness” features one of my favorite uses of the “woah-oh-oh” verse breaks.  “Hear You Me” is one of the most beautifully heartbreaking songs about death.  “The Authority Song” and “If You Don’t, Don’t” are two very underrated anthems and will be stuck in one’s head for days.  The album closes with “My Sundown.” It is the perfect ending to this powerhouse of an album.  It lulls the listener out to a dreamy state.  
As a whole, this album stands up to the test of time. The lyrics capture what it is like to be a teenager. The songs scream of insecurity and uncertainty of youth.  If you are looking for an upbeat yet profound album, give this one a listen.  It is unforgettable, even if you’ve forgotten it for years. 

This new column asks "Does It Hold Up?"

This is a new column, similar to the “Rediscovering Old Favorites,” will be short posts about loved albums from the early 2000s.  In the early 2000s, I fell victim to the pop-punk trend. Bands like Straylight Run, Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, etc filled my iPod (actually, I guess my Discman or Mini-Disc player).

I still enjoy TSL, TBS, and BN today. But I started to think of all those other bands that I loved and saw live multiple times during this era.  We are talking bands like The Movielife, Yellowcard, The Starting Line, Fall Out Boy, All American Rejects, Armor for Sleep. 

All those songs of angsty glory, paired with sing-alongs were perfect for my state of mind (at the time).  But now that I am older (and wiser, maybe) I wonder, was I just under the spell of angst or are the albums really timeless pieces? 

We will find out.