REVIEW: Rainer Maria: Long Knives Drawn
Rainer Maria: Long Knives Drawn [Polyvinyl, 2003] (mp3s)
Three words? reborn as rock
Rainer Maria had the unfortunate luck to be saddled with the emo-core tag. But given their past output, this genre classification was never truly an injustice. They wrote sad, punky songs. The fact that these songs were routinely incredible was almost beside the point. On their new album, Long Knives Drawn, Rainer Maria are finally breaking free of their pigeonhole.
Long Knives Drawn is the sound of Rainer Maria violently shaking off the spell of mellowness that infused most of their last album, A Better Version of Me. The band has never sounded like they were having more fun than on "Mystery and Misery", with its building tempo and smirking chorus of "oh, you're wicked/ you look so wicked". "Ears Ring", their rock-with-no-prefix-necessary first single, abandons Rainer Maria's usual breakneck pace, letting the guitar and bass strut rather than run. The band's shift into this more garage-rockish territory would all seem like a lot of bandwagon jumping if it were not for how well they pull it off. And singer Cathlin De Marrais' voice is stronger and more confident than it has ever been before, perfectly complementing its new punk-via-Stones backdrop.
All Rainer Maria albums have their obvious flaws, but these flaws are in short supply on Long Knives Drawn. With the exception of the remarkable "CT Catholic", Knives is free of the vocal transactions between De Marrais and guitarist/boyfriend Kyle Fischer that made past songs, like "Made in Secret" and "The Contents of Lincoln's Pockets", so epic. "The Double Life", a limp song that is further weakened by a shoddy mix, sounds like De Marrais is singing into a karaoke machine. And overlong and void of any real lyrical depth, "Imperatives" and "Floors" are back-to-back disappointments.
These weaker moments might be in reaction to Rainer Maria's history of over-emoting. The listener used to identify with De Marrais' frustration and longing, but on Long Knives Drawn she sounds strong and independent: less like she's screaming to be heard, more like she's screaming to be obeyed. It is rare for a band to desert a winning musical formula. It is even rarer, as in the case of Rainer Maria and Long Knives Drawn, that such a desertion works so well.