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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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The Long Winters
When I Pretend To Fall

Just about everyone involved with this, the second Long Winters album, has a more recognizable name than John Roderick. There's Ken Stringfellow of The Posies and the latter-day touring lineup of Big Star, who earned co-production and mixing credits and played several instruments. Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla also produced and added a few guitar parts. Minus Five maven Scott McCaughey honked harmonica, Pedro the Lion's Blake Wescott banged a tambourine, Stringfellow's Posies pal Jon Auer chipped in on his six-string, and even Ye Olde Pete Buck shrugged off a golden mandolin line. Heck, even the studio janitor probably had to prove his pop discography before plugging in the Shop-Vac.

But no amount of indie-pop star power should obscure this simple fact: At its core, When I Pretend to Fall is the product of a singular personality, and that is John Roderick. He wrote the songs, sings them, and plays everything from guitar to keys and steel to percussion; he's abetted throughout by the Long Winters lineup of keyboard player, harmony vocalist, and former Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson, bassist Eric Corson and drummer Michael Shilling.

The band wastes no time in proving that this disc will be a more energetic affair than its promising but slightly bland debut, 2002's The Worst You Can Do Is Harm. When I Pretend to Fall bursts out of the gate on the head-bobbing keyboards of "Blue Diamonds"; soon Roderick's plainspoken vocal appears, and by the time he's reached the first chorus, he's been joined by platoons of brass and backing vocalists. This is giddy pop-rock in Technicolor, and it continues through the Motown horns-and-organ arrangement of "Scared Straight," the R.E.M.-iniscent jangle of "Shapes," and the radiant ballad "Cinnamon."

Then Roderick pulls up on the reins, paring down the extra sounds and pushing his vocal to the fore. In "Bride and Bridle," an ominous tale of a dude out for blood after 10 years in the pen, there's a bit of Colin Blunstone's airbrushed tone in Roderick's throat, plus some of the guts of Bob Pollard. Sung over a simple piano line and, later, sweet strings, his falsetto on "Blanket Hog" is plaintive but not pinched. And he holds his own on "It'll Be A Breeze," an unadorned acoustic strummer that calls to mind Damien Jurado.

Heading down the home stretch, the pop muscle returns. As "Stupid" chugs along and shimmers, Roderick's voice goes all Doug Martsch, wobbly and urgent. "Prom Night at Hater High" opens with twinkling Van Morrison piano, but winds up a rollicking rocker jammed with dirty guitars, twitchy keys, and even an organ that sounds like a sax. "New Girl" is a happy snap-crackle of crunchy pop, "The Sound of Coming Down" echoes with GBV drone, and "Nora" ends things with a creatively arranged exercise in tuneful desperation.

And When I Pretend isn't just a collection of ear-tickling tunes; Roderick also delivers as a lyricist. "Blanket Hog" is a tender love letter, "Cinnamon" a story song that's evocative but hard to pin down — "It was a hospital, I was delirious/ I clung to the stretcher/ I drew them a heart/ They said, 'Do you remember when you saw her last?'/ I said, 'Her skin is cinnamon, her skin is cinnamon.'"

Elsewhere, he launches his share of memorable zingers ("Now my only ties to that old scene/ Are the same mean people in pre-owned jeans") along with a healthy dose of catchy nonsense. When it comes to lines like "You know karate now? From a show?/ When two of the raiders come, I'm counting on you to throw more than shapes," I may have no idea what he's talking about, but I'm singing along.

by Anders Smith Lindall

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