The Long Winters
Putting the Days to Bed
ne has to begin with it: this album does not sound like "The Commander Thinks Aloud." The centerpiece of the Long Winters' Ultimatum EP, John Roderick's ditty about re-entering Earth's atmosphere was a great glass tower of a song, a more blatant studio construction than any of the sunny, skewed guitar pop the Winters spent two albums and the rest of Ultimatum refining. Putting the Days to Bed, Roderick and company's third full-length, isn't an album of "The Commander Thinks Aloud"’s, or even half of one. Instead the Long Winters continue their careful refinement—so it's fortunate they're still getting better.
The first chunk of Putting the Days to Bed consists of the kind of big-chorused, proudly conventional pop songs summers are made of: "Pushover" explodes an acoustic guitar into a crunching, swelling love song; "Fire Island, AK" jumps up and down for four minutes with the confidence this band used to circumvent; "Teaspoon," the best of the opening trifecta, sends understated but insistent brass lapping at the banks of the repeat-the-nonsensical-title chorus. Roderick's lyrics are, as usual, fractured, loquacious, and suddenly and occasionally moving—check the small masterpiece "Hindsight," an impassioned range-life plea to The Girl to rethink her starry-eyed desire to "move on." "You keep scratching at the old paint / But the wood is still there and the room is still there," goes the chorus, before Roderick clambers and sprints to the very edge of the great Legitimate/Emo Divide to belt "If I hold you now will I be holding a snowball when the season changes and I'm craving the sun?" This is fantastic songwriting, sweet, smart lyrics buoyed by passionate musicians playing a melody that doesn't beat at you; it's the highlight of the album and it's why some of us think this band is special.
Elsewhere Roderick's voice and lyrical acumen fail him. "Honest" is a dully earnest catalogue of the love of a teenage girl for her rock-star spirit animal—not an undeserving subject, but the song sinks under a Wayne Coyne impression and a libretto that culminates with the line "Something is connecting you" and follows it up, drawing the words out towards an almost perverse anticlimax, with... "Something is connecting you." "Rich Wife" is a putdown song in which the band allows itself some genuine rocking out and Roderick puts his best sneer to good use, but it lacks the sarcastic originality of "New Girl" from the last album and even the odd line from this one—"Hindsight"'s most bitter couplet, "Are you still training for the big race / By hoping the runners will die?", is a hundred times more accomplished than "Rich Wife"'s "Is your high horse getting a little hard to ride?"
"Ultimatum" is perhaps more representative of the Long Winters' current attitude than anything else on the album: in both their choice of song and choice of arrangement, the band makes it clear that they're more interested in making that perfect pop album than in following up any of their lusher, stranger experiments. Re-recorded for Putting the Days to Bed (it made its first appearance on the EP of the same name), it throws out the original version's string-laden flutter for a crunchier, rowdier anthem that's fine by itself but suffers when placed towards the end of an album containing lots of crunchy, rowdy anthems.
Luckily, Roderick finds the smarmy-but-heartfelt great songwriter in himself again just in time to make a statement of purpose on "(It's A) Departure," possibly the least objectionable song ever to complain about other songs. Wrapping wry potshots ("I like the old days / But not all the old days / Only the good old days") around a chorus in which heads are bopped and dumb fun is had to the shouted repetition of that most automatic of music-critic clichés, the song escapes mean-spirited novelty through Roderick's deft guidance and through the fact that, what with all the roaring guitars and arena posturing, it really is kinduva departure. Just not the one we were expecting.