A WEATHER don't waste any time cutting straight to the heart. Their second album, Everyday Balloons, opens with "Third of Life," a deeply charged emotional epic that starts with a simple acoustic guitar and a quiet murmur from vocalist/songwriter Aaron Gerber. Then the rest of the band falls in, with a careful arrangement that builds to a feedback-laden coda.

"It felt like a good start for the album because it introduces the world to a much different sound than what we have done previously, to shock them into the new reality of A Weather," says Gerber, half-joking about the advent of squealing electric guitars to the band's previously hushed sound.

"That was one of the ones that we struggled with a lot," adds drummer/vocalist Sarah Winchester. "It would start out with all the stuff going on and then we'd take some away, and make it really simple. That is the one way this band jams: to strip stuff away and build it back up, and find all the places in between."

Winchester's co-vocals on "Third of Life" turn the morose lament into a sparkling duet; her granular voice dips below Gerber's, before the two of them trade overlapping affirmations and the song spirals to a stunning conclusion. It is, quite simply, one of the best songs you are likely to hear this year or any other, by a Portland band or one from any other city. It's also the kind of song that can capsize the album on which it appears, especially if it's the lead track.

Fortunately, the rest of Everyday Balloons is up to the challenge. A Weather received a noticeable amount of attention from the very beginning, getting signed to Team Love with only a few shows under their belt, then releasing an excellent single and debut album. But with Everyday Balloons, they've vaulted into a new realm altogether, making good on promises that most listeners probably thought the band had already capably fulfilled.

"In a way, it's been nonstop since we started recording in March of last year," says Gerber of the new album, which has been finished for a few months. "It's been just a really long process and every step of the way has been drawn out and a little bit painful. We haven't ever really had to, or been able to, set it down since we finished recording. Then Sarah spent three months doing the artwork."

"Five months," she interjects calmly, to laughter from her bandmates.

"Then when that was done and the album was starting to come out," adds Gerber, "we immediately started focusing on planning the tour, which was also kind of a tiny nightmare—not a big nightmare, it could've been a lot worse. But it definitely wasn't as easy as we anticipated. In that way, we haven't been able to step back from it."

Guitarist Aaron Krenkel and bassist Lou Thomas make up the other half of A Weather, although for the bulk of this year's tour, A Weather will be a trio of Gerber, Winchester, and Thomas. For the band's album release show, however, Krenkel and other guests will accompany them.

"We were writing and arranging songs until the last second of recording," says Gerber. "We had all of the basic core parts figured out, so we knew what we were going to play, and all of that was played live in the studio. But all of the textures and layers were overdubbed later. I think with Cove, the first album, we didn't leave as much to chance, but with this one we spent more time tinkering."

Like Cove, the new album was recorded with Adam Selzer of Norfolk & Western at his Type Foundry Studio. "Being in Type Foundry with Adam," Winchester says, "I think we just work really well with him; that place is so awesome and we're really lucky that we got to record there because it just feels good to be in there. That part was good, and felt manageable, but... Aaron and I are both always pretty self-critical about our vocals, and we get really obsessive about it, so that part's not as fun."

This leads to a question about what drugs the band were on while recording the album.

"Skittles," says Gerber.

"Coffee," says Thomas. "Actually, Aaron doesn't drink coffee. I tried to take him in the back and teach him a few times."

"I just can't seem to get it," Gerber admits.

"And I quit coffee while we were recording," Thomas adds. "So I can't say anything about the bass parts."

"You weren't really present," Gerber informs him.

Okay, so it won't surprise anyone to learn that A Weather is not a hard-partying band. To the casual listener, their subdued music can seem placid on the surface. But as the excellent Everyday Balloons proves, emotional currents run very strongly through every note this band plays, and their careful approach to music making has resulted in what may be the year's finest album.