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Rainer Maria 

Long Knives Drawn

Wednesday, Feb 19 2003
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Though Rainer Maria's origins read like a recipe for pretentious disaster -- guitarist Kyle Fischer met bassist Caithlin De Marrais in a University of Wisconsin poetry workshop; they named the group after German poet Rainer Maria Rilke -- the band has proven that it can rise above overwrought diary-rock. With Long Knives Drawn, its fourth album since forming in 1995, the act layers piercing lyrical truths atop cathartic power chords, wrapping angsty verses in hard edges and elegant folds.

In the past Rainer Maria created romantic tension through dueling male/female vocals; on this record, however, De Marrais takes the lead, delivering yearning sighs and frantic shouts above the raucous instrumentation. Long Knives Drawn cuts deepest on the first three tracks. On the opener, "Mystery and Misery," De Marrais sings, "Oh, you're wicked," as drummer William Kuehn funnels her frustration with desperate, driving beats. With "Ears Ring," Fischer's fitful guitar claws to keep up with head-spinning cymbals, and De Marrais delivers a sharply intuitive chorus: "Strange how the ears ring/ After a night of wrongdoing/ Strange how the arms sting/ When you're left holding nothing." Even weaker numbers, like the melodically repetitive "The Imperatives," offer small touches to sustain the listener's interest -- quavering vocals, powerful drum fills, and well-crafted lyrics. Rainer Maria may sound pseudo-intellectual in theory, but Long Knives Drawn suggests that cerebral rock can offer poetic justice.

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Nancy Einhart

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