Rainer Maria
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Past Worn Searching , 7/10
Look Now Look Again , 6.5/10
A Better Version Of Me , 6/10
Long Knives Drawn , 5/10
Catastrophe Keeps Us Together (2006), 5/10

Wisconsin trio Rainer Maria, led by singer songwriters Kyle Fischer and Caithlin DeMarrais, specialized in a solemn and touching blend of "slo-core". While the mini-album Rainer Maria (Polyvinyl, 1996) was still unfocused, the leaders' vocal harmonies and William Kuehn's drumming grew dramatically on the single New York 1955/ Up Until This Time (1997) and on the album Past Worn Searching (Polyvinyl, 1997). Songs like Tinfoil are charged with strong feelings even though they hardly release any. Rainer Maria's art is discreet and indirect.

DeMarrais' austere and slightly husky phrasing shines on Look Now Look Again (Polyvinyl, 1999), an album that refines all elements of Rainer Maria's approach. The best songs are more than music: they are psychological studies. Rise is an elegant, hymn-like composition that relies on a calm delivery (recalling Nico's childish odes) and on hypnotic strumming (the guitar-piano progression being eerily reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon). Discordant counterpoint and syncopated drumming form the backdrop for another noble vocal flight by DeMarrais, Lost Dropped And Cancelled. On the contrary, Breakfast Of Champion charges with blind fury and lets the male/female vocal harmonies duel almost free-form, with little respect for the melody.
To the trio's credit, they animate each song with turbulent instrumental parts and creative interplay. To their credit, most songs have an impetus that is almost punk. On the downside, the noisy, chaotic arrangements of Feeling Neglected and I'm Melting do not seem to benefit the album's atmosphere.

While technically more assured, A Better Version Of Me (Polyvinyl, 2000) fails to deliver the same magic. Hell And High Water, Artificial Light and Thought I Was are probably their best ever, and the best thing about them is that they all sound completely different. But too many songs are delivered in an aseptic, purified tone that drains them of the raw poetry of the past. The acid-rock fable The Seven Sisters and the dark psychodrama Spit And Fire attest to their eclectism and to the maturity of their songwriting.

Long Knives Drawn (Polyvinyl, 2003) is Rainer Maria's least inspired album, despite the fact that the band's grasp of dynamics is at its peak (Long Knives, CT Catholic, The Imperatives), its melodic skills are in full display (The Awful Truth of Loving), its emotional, jarring power is untouched (Situation Relation, Mystery and Misery, The Double Life) and a couple of numbers truly rock (stand-out Ears Ring and Floors).

Catastrophe Keeps Us Together (Grunion, 2006) is an album that should have been an EP or a single, or simply one of those rarities that get released 20 years after the fact for die-hard fans only. Then the sumptuous Already Lost would be a collector's item.

Caithlin DeMarrais' EP The Cottage (2008) and her album Red Coats (2011) are collections of mood pieces disguised as songs.

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