[1 May 2006]
How ironic that the same week one of the most historically prolific indie-rock bands puts out a new record, my boyfriend breaks up with me. Rainer Maria is a band that composes some of the most beautiful break-up songs to mourn to. It makes hard-nosed emo brats melt like teardrop pudding. The band’s existence and reputation has progressed into a very meticulous heart-wrenching sound. It sets the bar for all other bands seeking to create gorgeously crafted notes and lyrics that penetrate the listener to their darkest, innermost corners.
Originally, I was going to look at Catastrophe Keeps Us Together with a new viewpoint and bright eyes. The band had moved to a new label, Grunion Records, after many years with Polyvinyl. It took a new turn working with legendary producer Malcolm Burn, who has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Patty Smith, Iggy Pop, and Emmylou Harris. So upon first listen, I was struck by the power and audacity of Caithlin DeMarrais’s voice and lyrics. For the first time since I’d heard Rainer Maria, she’s singing solo instead of in unison with guitarist Kyle Fischer. William Kuehn provides aggressive drum beats as well, to make one pause and say, “Alright, they finally fought back!” The songs flew like sunlight peeking through the window, initially providing me with a slice of brightness. Songs like “Life of Leisure”, “Bottle”, and “Clear and True” rewrite everything this band has been known for. Although they contain familiar harmonies and style, the compositions are taken up a notch, with more strength and energy in their execution. It’s DeMarrais breaking through and showing what she is made of. It’s not an album for a weak heart. It’s not an album for defeat. It paints out loud what it wants, where, and when, and who is feeling it.
And yet, two days later, I was alone. The album took a whole new turn for me. I couldn’t listen to it for 30 seconds without crying. So I had to put it away for a week or so. I have no idea how DeMarrais gets through these songs sometimes. They are extremely vulnerable, showing a complete display of weakness and openness. The album provides honesty unearthed. Through the whole record the lyrics display her reserve and conscious strength, yet, in the end, she acknowledges that such strength is what gets her. On “Southpaw”, one of the most heart-burning songs I have ever heard, the album is reversed, by her singing, “It feels like the first time / But my heart isn’t in this / I’m supposed to be a seasoned fighter.” Her heart isn’t ready to fight. Her heart isn’t ready for anything. But she keeps playing. Because it’s what keeps her going, even though she is weak.
Even through all of the newness and epiphanies the band has experieced and accepted, the creators still experience their own personal shortcomings. Catastrophe Keeps Us Together is essentially an oxymoron. A person can display strength, yet still be shell-shocked on the inside.