Rainer Maria: A Better, Stronger, and Wiser Version of Me

By Casey Bowers

They called them Emo – and sure, why not?

Bands get unfair and uninspired labels stuck on them all of the time. Still, the Madison, Wisconsin trio of Caithlin De Marrais (lead vox, bass), Kaia (then, identifying as Kyle) Fischer (backup vox, guitar), and William Kuehn (drums) sounded too awesome and otherworldly to be reduced to the 3-letter genre du jour. They weren’t whiny or self-centered. They took their name from poet Rainer Maria Rilke and … did I mention they were from Madison, Wisconsin?

Past Worn Searching and Look Now Look Again are the revered classics in their catalog – OG Rainer Maria.

Both were wonderful lo-fi affairs, with their own brilliant moments (Tinfoil, New York 1955, Rise, Breakfast of Champions) but A Better Version of Me had something the others didn’t. Artificial Light. That single catapulted them within closest range of alt rock fame, but it wasn’t in the stars for them.

Though hailed by fans and critics, topping end of year lists (when that sort of thing still mattered), the tour in support of ABVOM took its toll on the band as well as the relationship between De Marrais and Fischer. After recording the dark and fiery break-up record, Long Knives Drawn, and residing in Brooklyn, the trio pulled out all the stops for what would be their last album, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together on new imprint Grunion Records. The title track, “Catastrophe” is a straightforward rock ballad and a triumphant tour de force that perhaps with better PR and musical climate, it could have been the crossover hit many had hoped.

Instead, the band announced their split in 2006.

Since then, all three members have grown as musicians and humans.
De Marrais returned home to Connecticut, released two critically acclaimed solo albums and became a mother in the process. Fischer released her own solo album, spent time in Asia, practicing buddhism, and came out as trans. Kuehn trekked around the globe as a traveling musician and producer, playing and recording with bands as near as NYC and as far as Syria.

For all three members, that growth has made them the best band they’ve ever been and S/T may be their best album yet.

This, of course, doesn’t fit with the conventional wisdom.
This isn’t the way comeback albums or reunion records are supposed to work.
The screws aren’t supposed to be this tight. The grooves aren’t supposed to come this natural. The band isn’t supposed to be this good, but they are.

De Marrais’ songwriting is more elastic, easily conveying the extremes, the highs, and lows of the human condition and reaching new emotional depth.

What may impress most about this release and this incarnation of the band is that everything is left intact. Things that were lost have either been sutured, repaired, or replaced with a better version of the thing.

The hooks are hookier, the chorus’ are more memorable, the singing is stronger, and the playing is more powerful, even when that power lies in pulling back, being vulnerable, or fully exposed. There are still serpentine bass lines and sweet, twinkling guitar-peggios, but they share time with huge heavy riffs, bits of fuzzed out bliss, and big monster beats and drum parts.

Truly, it’s a sensational record and a new triumph for the band that is undoubtedly catching the ears of the uninitiated, making new fans, and leading to full discography dives.

And for longtime fans and those who were there all those years ago, you’re going to find lots to love from the unabashed BIG sound of Rainer Maria’s S/T.

Gallery below from Rainer Maria’s Ace of Cups performance on September 20th, courtesy of Harry Acosta Photography

Gallery courtesy of Harry Acosta Photography