Rainer Maria

Long Drawn Knives (Polyvinyl)

Naming your band after a poet – especially a European one – makes you intelligent, right? Yet there's nothing overwhelmingly intelligent about Rainer Maria – the Wisconsin indie-rockers that take their name from famed German "object" poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Too much has been written about Maria's "articulate" rock by critics who are too easily impressed with the band's vocabulary. If it's vocabulary that strikes us and not the music, then maybe both sides, the media and Rainer Maria, need to reevaluate the game.

Maria's songs are actually replete with clichés and oversimplified observations. Now, most pop music is, but most pop bands aren't prejudged because of their namesake. That's like assuming the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd are all jocks because the band is named after a high school gym teacher.

Maria's latest, Long Drawn Knives, is plenty verbose, if only because each song's narrative structure depends on step-by-step storytelling more than truly lyrical songs might. Caithlin de Marrais' vocals are placed way on top of Kyle Fisher's guitar, neutralizing its strained expression (Fisher's mildly dissonant phrasing is by far the most articulate element in Maria's repertoire). Marrais is much more effective when she croons, as she does on "The Awful Truth of Loving" when she hopelessly confesses, "I wanted to be sweet/So you won't be disappointed." The lines describe an adherence to feminine stereotype just to save a relationship, emphasizing the sacrifices people make to remain in love. Her voice just doesn't translate well to punk agitation – and she has trouble varying her delivery when it comes to angst.

"Double Life" and "Ears Ring," the two great songs on the album, emphatically pull at the listener with their obsessive, looping guitars and desperate lyricism. Marrais implores her lover in "Double Life" to save her "some time," which works both as a plea for companionship and psychic help. The majority of the other tracks, however, point to romanticism as their catalyst but lose their effectiveness because they go on much too long. As on 2001's A Better Version of Me, the beautiful-sounding lead track here, "Mystery and Misery," becomes agitating because of unrelenting repetition.

Rainer Maria could take note from its namesake, who learned while studying with the sculptor Rodin that things have a "concentrated reality" – even songs. Or maybe the band can just drink more beer and learn a little rock 'n' roll brevity.

 
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