Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rainer Maria review

Catastrophe Keeps Us Together
Grunion Records

I was so far behind on this band, that when I became a fan of Rainer Maria, it was during not their first, not their second, but their third wave of popularity. It was about a year ago, when I saw them at CafĂ© Du Nord, which was both my first time hearing their music, and my first time eating Du Nord’s super-crispy Kennebec fries with chili ketchup and garlic aioli. Awesome night.

In the intervening year, I’ve developed a medium-sized obsession – somewhere between my consuming devotion to the Magnetic Fields and my vague infatuation with MF Doom. They’re from Wisconsin…which is nice. Not because they have a particularly Midwestern flavor, but because they don’t have the permeating (and infuriating) aura of being from New York, or the Bay Area scene, or – worst – fucking Montreal.

I love three-pieces, especially G-B-D types. Rainer Maria works on basically the same formula as The Who, although the content, performance, etc. are plenty different. Really virtuosic performers, who just tear into their instruments like they just bought them yesterday, filling up as much space as possible. I also have to admit that I like female bassists. Don't know why.

The new album is called Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, and it’s...sorta different, sorta not. The band smoothed out the sudden changes, abrasive vocals, and dissonance from the previous albums, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I love their last LP, Long Knives Drawn, because it sounds so much like their live show, full of careening energy and furious attacks. The new one is more controlled, more carefully arranged, less muddy. For the songs with depth, of which there are a handful, the added care improves the material. For the more banal songs (this poetically-themed band occasionally writes some pretty lame lyrics), the cleaner mix and simplified lines pushes the music dangerously close to modern-rock territory. On previous albums, slightly juvenile melodrama was well complimented with punk abandon. And you can’t fault bands that make this kind of music for writing simple lyrics – as with Sleater-Kinney, or The Walkmen, complex verbal exploration wouldn’t fit the tone or the style. That said, modern-rock + simple lyrics = Hootie, so you’ve got to be careful.

As with the last two albums, the first cut serves as the anthem, (see Long Knives Drawn’s “Mystery and Misery” or “Artificial Light” from A Better Version of Me). Cashing in on the post-millennial, pre-apocalypse tension, “Catastrophe” opens the album with a vaguely political alarm call/love song. It’s the best cut on the album, and even got me a little misty at the end, when Caithlin De Marrais repeats over and over: “I’ve got a plan/I’m gonna find you/at the end of the world.” What can I say, she’s hot and I’m a sucker for screamy professions of love against the odds.

Other album highlights: “So Terrified,” which would be cheesy if it weren’t so earnest and resolutely anti-clichĂ©. “Bottle” is a great love song that employs the charmingly Garth Brooks-ish metaphor of love like a bottle to the head. “Already Lost” has a mounting anguish that purges itself through lots of thrashy chords and desperate wail, along with trademark "I'm sad/I'm ok/wait, am I?" lyrics:

I waited up all night
And my thoughts were all of desolation
But the best part of waiting up all night
Was in the morning when I didn’t feel a thing.

There’s some familiar stuff here, too. “Life of Leisure” is basically “Ears Ring,” a little watered-down and Interpol-ed (Peter Katis, the Interpol’s producer, did the first two cuts). “Clear and True” has a generic catchiness that I know Camille will love, and I’ll endure and probably sing along with mindlessly. Unfortunately, William Kuehn’s wild drumming can’t save “Make You Mine” from lines like “I’ll make you mine/Cause I love you so, tonight,” and Kyle Fischer’s endlessly inventive guitar work can’t save “Burn” from similar problems.

But the album as a whole is great, and I’m sure it’ll grow on me, because De Marrais’s voice is so affecting, and they play so well. If you don’t own a Rainer Maria album, and you’re interested, I’d recommend Long Knives Drawn or A Better Version of Me, to get a sense of what their best songwriting sounds like un-handicapped by “sophisticated” production. Also download “Catastrophe” from iTunes and try not to sing it under your breath.

Oh – also, Rainer Maria are going on tour to support the new album, and I can’t recommend their live show strongly enough. I’ve been seeing live music long enough not to trust the frequent impulse to buy an album as soon as the show’s over. But I did after the show last year, because they were having such a blast on stage, dancing around and tearing into the songs. Kyle Fischer, especially, is not to be missed. It probably depends on the mood, but on the live DVD, and at the show I saw, he was just shredding and doing some killer Pete Townsend moves.

Tour dates

Band website


zach said...

how can anyone be only vaguely infatuated with MF Doom? He vies with ghostface for favorite MC i rarely understand ever!

alek said...

His flow is unique, and I really like a couple tracks off Operation Doomsday, but his complete stream of consciousness thing prevents me from getting into his material, or wanting to listen to it more than a few times. So I bought MadVillain used, and I bought Danger Doom used, and they'll probably only get 5 spins each unless something changes in my head.