Freedom makes Long Winters frontman John Roderick giddy. Freedom also makes his bands' records schizophrenic.

"I've always wanted to make records, and there was always something standing in my way," says Roderick. "I've had this backlog of desire...and then there's this feeling of...maybe this is my last chance. So I want to do everything."

The result is When I Pretend to Fall, the Seattle band's fractured and brilliant second release on Barsuk Records. Twelve distinctly separate songs rise and fall melodically, twinkling with hopeful intellect, recalling, at times, Brian Wilson, early R.E.M. and CSNY. When I Pretend to Fall is familiar and supremely listenable, but also complicated--a fact that may ultimately keep some listeners at bay.

The Long Winters will be opening a bunch of dates with Death Cab for Cutie in October, and the question looms. Will a new audience--Death Cab's ripe mix of emo-kids and indie-geeks--fall for the Long Winters?

The sonic compulsiveness that fuels Roderick is exactly what complicates the answer to that question. Producer (and Death Cab guitarist) Chris Walla may have sensed this when prepping for the new album. The agreement was, according to Roderick, to "make a rock record in two weeks." In his excitement, the singer called in flŸgelhorn players and a handful of guest musicians (R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Ben Gibbard and others). Five weeks later, the Winters walked out of the studio with When I Pretend to Fall.

The lack of focus is evident in the collection of songs. They vary widely: an earnest jangle here ("Cinnamon"), a New Wave rollerskate there ("Shapes"), the sardonic single "Blue Diamonds." The trade-off is that Roderick's aspiration for the great singalong might get lost in the crowd.

"The most disconcerting thing is to play a show and not be able to get a handle on whether you've connected with the audience or not," says Roderick. "The payoff's gotta be about right NOW."

If the crowds give the Long Winters a chance, there will be plenty of payoff for everyone.

The Long Winters play Monday, Sept. 22, with Centro-Matic and Chez Stadium at Tonic Lounge, 3100 NE Sandy Blvd., 238-0543. 9 pm. $6. 21+.