Building upon the Long Winters' first album, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm, frontman John Roderick compiled enough hooks to create the solid, delectably pop sophomore effort When I Pretend to Fall. The Long Winters get happy on this one, and Roderick's vibrant, newfound confidence as a showman and songwriter allows the Long Winters' sound to finally gel. Chris Walla, Sean Nelson, Eric Corson, and Michael Schilling return for some sonic goodness, while ex-Posies guitarist/vocalist Ken Stringfellow joins the Long Winters to polish things up a bit. Extra help from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Pedro the Lion's Blake Wescott is a bonus in adding to Roderick's nearly accessible candied rock sound. Album opener "Blue Diamonds" kicks things off with a swanky brass section. Roderick's self-assured vocals are a touch shy at first, but the Michael Stipe comparisons immediately disappear mid-chorus. Roderick takes control and he likes it; it sounds so good on the synth-driven '60s pop of "Scared Straight." Shimmering space rock guitars and budding string arrangements carry the melodies of "Blanket Hog" for one of the album's brightest moments, while "Prom Night at Hater High" is equally energetic with its hoedown-like appeal. When it seems like the Long Winters could use a break or at least a breather, "New Girl" gets cheeky with classic power pop. When I Pretend to Fall aptly suggests that things could go one way, but Roderick and company push and pull with harmony and emotion for a full, tangible set of songs. One listen to "Nora" and you'll sense Roderick's soft heart. It charms you; a soft heart doesn't equal a simple album, however.
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AllMusic Review by MacKenzie Wilson