The Long Winters: “Nora”
For my money, one of the best albums released during the 2000s came from one of the best Seattle-based bands to never have quite made it as big as they deserved: The Long Winters. They shared a musical landscape with such fellow Pacific Northwest bands as Death Cab for Cutie and Harvey Danger (whose lead singer, Sean Nelson, was a member of The Long Winters on this album), but they didn’t sound like either of those bands. Their second album (I’d say “sophomore,” but doesn’t that word feel overused in the context of music albums?), 2003’s When I Pretend to Fall, isn’t even necessarily their best album, depending who you ask, but it’s the one that I discovered them with and that really struck a chord with me upon its release. And it has continued to strike chords left and right in the years since — it hasn’t seemed to age a day since it came out.
I think the secret to the album’s continued freshness is that the Long Winters’ lead singer and creative font, John Roderick, wisely sidestepped any music trends, focusing instead on writing songs that found their strength simply in great melody and lyrics. Roderick’s singing voice is relatable, that of an easygoing friend who’s been through some tough times but is making the best of it, and that relatability helps in making many of Roderick’s lyrics feel universal. One of my favorites is “Stupid,” where he responds to a friend’s berating for being too hung up on a potential girlfriend: “Stupid?/You could call it that/Stupid/But you have no idea/How stupid I would feel/If 15 years from now I see her/and she says, ‘Why didn’t it happen between us, stupid?'”
My favorite lyric on the album comes from “Nora,” the album closer, and that lyric — along with the song’s sonic power — is what made me settle on it as the song from the album to feature. Because honestly, nearly any of the songs from When I Pretend to Fall would have made sense here. “Nora” pushed its way to the front of the pack today on the strength of its stark piano, which quickly surges to a pounding drone, and Roderick’s monotone, somewhat dazed vocals, as though he’s still trying to clear his head after a long emotional battle with the song’s namesake. And the lyrics confirm that despite everything he’s tried, he failed to make the connection with Nora that he so desperately wanted, but which she clearly wasn’t open to; they were looking for different things. And that leads to that favorite lyric I mentioned above, stunning in its dead-on simile:
But she never says I love you
Til I say I love you
Like we’re exchanging hostages
That alone makes When I Pretend to Fall worth a listen, but thankfully there are many more great moments to be discovered…