Even for emo, that most smug of rock n’ roll sub-genres, Rainer Maria always seemed a little too elitist. Not that elitism is necessarily a bad thing, but the band’s newest album, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, is their strongest since 1999’s Look Now Look Again because they’ve finally lightened up. Most of the band’s rougher edges have been hewn: the shrieky duets between Caithlin De Marrais and Kyle Fischer of yore have been reduced to De Marrais solos, and their demo-quality sound has gracefully evolved into a warmly produced pop mélange. While the record sometimes plays like an audition for the next O.C. mixtape (the strings on the Kelly Clarkson-soundalike “Already Lost” really should have been junked), it demonstrates growth through tighter production and songcraft, unlike recent releases by contemporaries Death Cab for Cutie and The Promise Ring. This might be the best post-Avril emo record to date.
Rainer Maria’s moniker is catchy but preposterous (I wouldn’t compare Patti Smith to Rilke, much less De Marrais), but lyrically, we’ve heard much worse. In between rock clichés like “You can’t just turn me on and off!” and “I’ve got a plan/I’m gonna find you,” De Marrais turns some delightful kiss-off phrases like “Talk is cheap but the phone bill is not” (from the awesome “Life Is Leisure”). The duets of earlier Rainer Maria records could be confrontational, clearly aping John Doe and Exene Cervenka, but Rainer Maria has never been as defiant as X, so the decision to focus attention on De Marrais’s persona was a wise one. Now the songs sound like heartfelt confessionals rather than affected disagreements, and unlike weaker emo and indie-rock outfits, Rainer Maria’s got conviction in spades.
“I’ll Make You Mine” is the record’s highlight and should be downloaded immediately; it’s a taut and noisy three-and-a-half minute pop masterpiece, heavy on ride cymbals and power chords, and De Marrais’s emotive holler is rich and genuine. The song’s only flaw is that it vastly overshadows the rest of the record (much like the single “Breakfast Of Champions” on Look Now Look Again), but one can hardly fault Rainer Maria for composing a track that demands to be heard again and again and again. Hopefully, the band will one day complete a record as exceptional from start to finish, but for now, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together is a terrific collection of thoughtful, energetic rock songs.