The Long Winters, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm

Matthew Fritch

By Matthew Fritch

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Though grunge lingered in the Seattle music scene well into the mid '90s, another subterranean pop movement was already starting to bubble under the surface. It didn't have a uniform look or sound, but it had something to rebel against: the often witless, overwhelmingly macho and not-so-secretly metal-obsessed grunge aesthetic. The Emerald City must have felt like East Berlin to locals like John Roderick, Chris Walla and Sean Nelson, guys who preferred the finely crafted Seattle pop of the Posies and Young Fresh Fellows over second-generation Soundgardens. Walla, of course, found membership in Death Cab For Cutie; Nelson became the frontman for the underrated Harvey Danger (whose alt-rock hit “Flagpole Sitta” doomed the group to one-hit-wonderdom); and Roderick formed the Western State Hurricanes, a short-lived outfit that toured with Harvey Danger but never broke out nationally.

Shining Seattle pop, alternately wistful and rollicking, from a group that contained the seeds of Death Cab and others

Roderick, Walla and Nelson united as the Long Winters for their 2002 debut The Worst You Can Do Is Harm, a vehicle for Roderick's songwriting and a test drive of Walla's then-new studio, Hall of Justice. Drowsy album opener “Give Me A Moment” is a curious warm-up, featuring Walla's tape-spliced keyboard patterns and Roderick mumbled, pity-party lyrics; from this point on, however, the Long Winters pretty much go in the exact opposite direction. Though Roderick can be a bookish, introspective songwriter, he's got a commanding, David Lowery-like blare of a voice that carries wistful acoustic strummers (“Scent Of Lime,” “Mimi”) and stands up alongside rollicking, twangy pop songs. The finest example of the latter is “Carparts,” an anthem for a guy with a junkyard heart: “I'm leaving you all of my car parts/I didn't have the money or I would've gotten roses.” While Nelson and Walla wouldn't remain in the Long Winters lineup for subsequent albums, The Worst You Can Do Is Harm is a fascinating snapshot of Roderick assembling his own brand of hard-won pop songs.