January 18, 2003

Ranier Maria "Long Knives Drawn"

Daytime talk shows seem to love the "look at me now!" themed-show. You know the story: "I used to be fat or skinny or big-nosed and small-chested or utterly and blissfully self-conscious, and you never noticed me or took my feelings seriously because I wasn't pretty, but now I'm H-O-T-T hot!" Well, Rainer Maria's certainly pulled that one on me, and Long Knives Drawn is very much a "look at me now!" type of record.

Instead of the blissed-out emo poetry diary-lite of yore, Long Knives Drawn rocks hard, rocks fast, rocks loud. Singer Caithlin De Marrais isn't merely singing, she's beltin' them out, in a strong, confident voice that leaves the precious sounds of their earlier records way, way behind. "Mystery and Misery" (great pun!) is, on first listen, a sonic sucker punch that will leave you thinking, "THIS is Rainer Maria?!?!"
True, there were hints of this sonic shift on their previous album, the aptly-titled A Better Version of Me, but I just couldn't get into that one.

For the most part, the songs on Long Knives Drawn are upbeat, slightly poppy rockers; there's nothing here that reeks of that dreaded "emo" term. "Long Knives," "Floors," and "Ears Ring" are hard-rock numbers (!), and De Marrais' singing reminds me of the late, great Mia Zapata. Something must have happened to Caithlin between albums, something that filled her heart and soul with confidence and self-assurance. Whatever that was, it was a good thing, indeed! Except for "CT Catholic," the boy/girl singing is a thing of the past...but, of course, with De Marrais' newfound strength, why would you want (or need) another singer?

Instead, Long Knives Drawn is an album full of songs that would sound great on both the radio and your mix tape. "The Double Life," in fact, sounds ready for the radio, if radio played this kind of music--good music. Breaking away from your sound is always a dangerous--sometimes fatal--thing for a band to do, but Rainer Maria have pulled it off, and Long Knives Drawn is a great record.

--Joseph Kyle

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