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Rhythm & Views

Rainer Maria

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The first time I met Caithlin De Marrais, in 2001, she was wearing an off-white cable-knit sweater and had her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked like the Connecticut-bred University of Wisconsin at Madison grad that she was. These days, though, she's got that hot-hipster thing going, and Rainer Maria is opening for rock radio-friendly emo bands like The Format. My, how quickly things can change.

And it's not just De Marrais that's all glammed up; Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, Rainer Maria's fifth full-length (not including 2004's live album, Anyone in Love With You (Already Knows), pretty much kills any nerdy intellectualism left over from their Wisconsin days.

For the first three songs, the band sounds better than ever: De Marrais belts the songs in key, and, thankfully, guitarist Kyle Fischer keeps his mouth shut. "Catastrophe" can't be loud enough; a signature De Marrais bass line elevates "Life of Leisure," and "Burn" sounds like the grown-up version of "Rise," off of 1999's Look Now Look Again. But then De Marrais begins singing "Bottle" before the instruments kick in, and the whole album goes sour. The acoustic and earnest "Terrified" brings the album back around briefly, but the cover of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" seems out of place, and "Southpaw" is an exercise in adolescent metaphor. "I'll Make You Mine" reeks of obsessive stalker, and there's just no explanation for the utterly bland "Cities Above."

Whatever happened to the cable-knit-sweater-wearing girl that could use the word "anathema" in a song? Catastrophe Keeps Us Together may not be quite an anathema for Rainer Maria, but it's pretty close.

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