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Rainer Maria
Catastrophe Keeps Us Together
Grunion Records
www.rainermaria.com


The problem with reviewing the whole new Rainer Maria album was I just wanted to listen to the first track, "Catastrophe" over and over again. It's smart, catchy and arresting. It sounds fresh and ambitious, all the more impressive given the band has been through 10 years of minor success and decent, if barely distinguishable, records.

Musically, "Catastrophe" combines the danceable hooks of Metric with the indie rock of Rilo Kiley and the loud urgency of Sleater-Kinney. That probably makes no sense, but check out the song and you'll know what I mean. Lyrically, it's clever and political and somehow hopeful - brilliant, in short. "Catastrophe keeps us together / We're the architects of the world / We're taking it all apart / Do you think we could go on forever / when the architects of the war / are handing out the swords? / Well I've got a plan / I'm gonna find you / at the end of the world."

So I finally got over it and started listening to the rest of the album. Musically, it is full of surprises and tempo changes, which seem exceedingly rare in the indie rock world. The band is equally capable of crashing punk-pop and soft acoustic laments, and comfortable switching off between the two throughout the album. The second track, "Life of Leisure" kicks it up a little louder and faster than "Catastrophe" (they follow the "High Fidelity" mix tape rules).

Like much of the album, the lyrics are personal and mildly bitter. They have a universal nature in their simplicity: "The future's going out of focus / Our talk is cheap, but the phone bill is not." The next track, aptly titled "Burn" starts slow and gradually builds to an angry dirge.

The first real acoustic break comes at track five, "Terrified," which has Caithlin De Marrais doing that captivating voice-cracking thing Regina Spektor does where she sounds on the verge of tears. It's followed by "Cities Above," a weird, mid-album interlude with brief, whispered lyrics and Dresden Dolls-ish Eastern European melodies.

The album should end with the 10th track, "Southpaw," an intense number about boxing (or more likely a metaphor for relationships, like every song and movie about boxing). De Marrais sounds truly defeated when she sings, "How many rounds can I go? / And how can I soften the blows? / Can I avoid them altogether?"
You want to let her out of the ring, but she keeps swinging with a pretty, but unnecessary cover of Dylan's "I'll Keep it With Mine" and a pointlessly long instrumental hidden track (didn't we get over those after the second Pearl Jam album?).

-Steve Graham

Track Listing
1. Catastrophe
2. Life of Leisure
3. Burn
4. Bottle
5. Terrified
6. Cities Above
7. Already Lost
8. Clear and True
9. Make You Mine
10. Southpaw
11. I'll Make You Mine


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