It’s difficult for me to write an objective review of the new Long Winters EP, Ultimatum, because I can hardly bear to listen closely to the first track. It’s not that it’s bad—far from it—just wrenching. “The Commander Thinks Aloud,” which appeared in an electronically remixed form on Barsuk’s Future Soundtrack for America compilation, is a moving meditation on the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia from the point of view of the crew. It makes me think that John Roderick must have been doing the same thing I was that February morning in 2003: saying “no no no no no” to the radio and weeping for our future. The final coda, “The crew compartment’s breaking up,” is almost unbearable in its stately majesty.
The rest of the EP, coming two-plus years after the band’s sometimes rollicking, sometimes touching triumph When I Pretend to Fall, is consistent in gravity and musical excellence. The cover image, of falling sere leaves, is appropriate: this is autumnal music.
The melancholy of autumn is there in lyrics of the title cut, though it’s kind of a juvenile melancholy with echoes of Cummings and even Simon and Garfunkel: “No one can harness the rain/And I can make myself into rain/You’ll feel me on your cheek/And on your sleeve” is reminiscent of nothing so much as “Kathy’s Song.” The same echoes recur in “Delicate Hands,” which has one of the finer lines of regret I’ve heard in a pop song recently: “I want to feed you/butter-rum candy/But someone beat you/to me.”
The final two songs on the EP, live solo Roderick performances of “Ultimatum” and “Bride and Bridle” from When I Pretend to Fall, solidify the impression of a band in a more reflective place. The band has gone through a fairly tumultuous history in its five years, with an eight-member “emeritus” list on its official bio page (to be fair, many of them were touring members or producers only, and one—Sean Nelson—has his own band to look after. But Ultimatum makes the case that John Roderick in his own right is a substantial talent and that in the context of this band he can produce some genuinely moving stuff. A big impact from a short release. I’m looking forward to hearing the full-length, due out next year.
This review also published at Blogcritics.