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The Long Winters 

Ultimatum EP (Barsuk)

Best thing we've heard in the past year? That would have to be this fantastic EP's opening cut, "The Commander Thinks Aloud," in which the Long Winters' enigmatic frontman John Roderick caterwauls over a symphonic mess of a song. While obscurely tackling the two NASA shuttle disasters, Roderick stakes a claim on history that's downright egomaniacal. If the song weren't a romantic and poetic ode to lives ended instantaneously in air, even we might call him a pretentious loon for his effort.

But as it is, the song's a six-minute epic in need of more time, a prayer for bodiless heroes and a grappling search for spirit amid ruin. "A trail of shooting stars/The horses call the storm/Because the air contains the charge," Roderick sings as piano and drums provide spare accompaniment. At the tune's end, after many nearly undecipherable verses, Roderick's target finally comes into focus: "The radio is on/And Houston knows the score/Can you feel it/We're almost home."

Folkish and polite, the remaining five cuts reflect petty concerns; almost indecently selfish, in light of what came before. It's like a boxer trying to stand up after getting knocked out.

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