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A Better Version of Themselves

Rainer Maria delivers a stronger, more confident kind of indie rock

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When Caithlin De Marrais opens up Rainer Maria’s newest album with the line “No one defies artificial light,” you have to wonder if the “light” she’s referring to is some poetic construct full of allegorical consequence or if it’s simply a metaphor for the inescapable music that you’re about to listen to. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that Rainer Maria has been creating a buzz nationally for the past couple of years with their own brand of emotive music. To categorize their sound beyond this would only serve to belittle it.

Rainer Maria (named after the 19th century Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke) found its beginnings in 1995 when guitarist Kyle Fischer met up with De Marrais at a poetry workshop at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Kyle had been playing with drummer Bill Kuehn in another band, but ditched that effort in search of “broader sonic horizons.” An inexperienced De Marrais picked up bass along the way and the band was quickly booking its own DIY tours. Six years, three full-length albums and many assorted 45s and compilations later, Rainer Maria are now on a label (Polyvinyl) and have become a common sight in music magazines like Magnet, Spin, and Paper.

The band’s most recent release, A Better Version of Me, finds them writing under the manifesto of less is better. Soft-to-loud dynamics that were commonplace on previous efforts have been replaced by straight-ahead rock rhythms and driving guitar. They engage hooks by either stripping down or filling out parts with the alteration of a single instrument rather than by tacking on more parts. This desire—to take full advantage of the multiple sonic expressions inherent in a single harmony or rhythm—signifies a maturity that can only be projected by a group that has truly become comfortable in its own sound.

This confidence is also reflected in their live show. I caught Rainer Maria in Atlanta this summer playing to a packed house. The audience swayed to every minute as they previewed new songs between recognizable crowd pleasers. Live, Rainer Maria is the epitome of tight. The show displayed a precision that only comes with years of touring and hard work. Fischer moved about the stage in a sort of incendiary passion that betrayed the assiduousness of his guitar licks, while De Marrais sang with a fervor that one simply cannot capture on record. Kuehn was the proverbial rock that held it all down with his unfaltering beats. It was a show that most people would have walked away from wondering how three people could have crammed so much raw emotion into such a seamless package.

Rainer Maria has been making the best of A Better Version of Me with a six-plus-week U.S. tour that’s taking a stopover in the Garden City. Seeing as how the majority of the bands that get airplay on KBGA never even come close to Missoula (oftentimes going to great lengths to avoid us, in fact), this offers up a rare opportunity for the kids of college radio to check out some national indie rock that delivers.

Rainier Maria play at Jay’s Upstairs this Sunday at 10 p.m. with local support from the Gustafsons. Cover TBA.

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