Tag Archives: Rainer Maria

Emo’s Greatest Second Acts

Owen by Shervin Lainez

Owen by Shervin Lainez

In July of 1996, just shy of his 22nd birthday, Jeremy Enigk released Return of the Frog Queen, an album of radiant orchestral folk that—as songs like “The Shade and the Black Hat” prove—still swaggered with the bombast of indie rock. “I wanted to make sure that it didn’t sound like SDRE,” he says now, referring to his groundbreaking post-hardcore act Sunny Day Real Estate, a group that defined emo, broke up, reformed, and re-defined the genre, all before Enigk had turned 25. “It would have just been a lesser version of [that].”

Possessing both youthful aggression and teenage melancholy, most of emo’s leading lights tended to make their defining statements early in their careers, their bands making canonical albums before their members headed their separate ways, off to college or a day job. Young adulthood is a particularly formative time when it comes to shaping a person’s musical tastes, and the sounds a musician creates in their teens and early 20s change as genres expand and new influences enter the scene.  Many of these musicians left their early successes for other bands or other careers, and some have returned to the emo genre with new monikers—as was the case for Chris Simpson.

Simpson’s work in Mineral and the dream-pop act The Gloria Record had long established him as a formidable songwriter, but “the Gloria Record toured into 2004 then hit a wall,” he says. “I was itching to do something different. I was listening to a lot of Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan & The Band. I really just wanted to do looser and rootsier. Less calculated. I was interested in throwing a bunch of people in a room and seeing what happened.” The result was Zookeeper, now known as Mountain Time, who have released two albums and one EP since 2006. On songs like the title track from 2014’s Pink Chalk, Simpson employs a keen pop sensibility, his vocals soaring with a confidence absent from Mineral’s debut, The Power of Failing. The same distinctive authorial voice remains, but it’s changed, speaking to different goals and aimed at creating different sounds.

The same could be said for Enigk. With Frog Queen, he was using the experience of SDRE to recontextualize the sounds of his youth—Sgt. Pepper’s, Tom Waits, and the Popeye soundtrack by Harry Nilsson. He employed a 21-piece orchestra, complete with trombones, piccolos, and harp, resulting in some of the most gorgeous music of his career. After two more albums and plenty of touring with a reformed SDRE, Enigk released World Waits in 2006, and soon after (by his standards) OK Bear, a piano-driven album of astounding grace. If Frog Queen retains some hardcore aggression, his arpeggiating guitar work feels like a preparation for SDRE’s first post-reunion LP, How It Feels to Be Something On. OnOK Bear, Enigk is quieter and more confident, with songs like “Mind Idea” and “Sant Feliu De Guixols” doing more with less. It is entirely possible to me that, at this point in his career, new fans might not even be well-versed in his foundational work over 20 years ago.

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The Best Albums of Summer 2017

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Every three months, the Bandcamp Daily editorial staff combs through the stacks to present our favorite records of the year to date. The albums presented here run the stylistic spectrum, everything from noise to indiepop to hip-hop to everything in between. And if you like what you see here, check out our picks for winter and spring of 2017, too.

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Album of the Day: Rainer Maria, “S/T”

In the early days, Rainer Maria was a band of shouters. The crashing drums, the thunderous guitar, the serpentine bass—the trio created a mountain of sound that, it seemed, could only be scaled by Caithlin DeMarrais and Kaia Fischer screaming their heads off. It was glorious and youthful, but it was also unsustainable. By the time the band moved from Madison to Brooklyn in the late ’90s, they were already looking for ways to pretty up their sound, lest DeMarrais lose more and more shows to shredded vocals cords.

“Pretty” was something Rainer Maria aspired to anyway, of course; the increasingly softening force of the music left room for soft thoughts and complicated emotional revelations. The band that, on its first album, had belted out the most emo line of all time—“Call an ambulance, I don’t want to walk home alone” on the track “Tinfoil”—was now summoning mature and peculiar moments of grace.

Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, released in 2006, was instantly appealing and the band’s best attempt at balancing the musical id with the lyrical superego. Song after song predicted the end of the world. On the heavier tracks (“Life of Leisure” and “Catastrophe,” in particular), they put their sweetest thoughts on asteroids and let them burn up, sometimes with explosive results. And then there were the gentler songs, like “Terrified,” which DeMarrais sang with awesome bewilderment and fragility: “On these old streets, I can’t believe you’re not walking next to me / I can almost feel your hand in my back pocket.” By then, she’d long become the lead singer. Fischer was best making her presence felt with moody, muscular guitarwork that provided endless opportunities for the band to go nuts in exhilarating ways. Having achieved the kind of underappreciated perfection that mostly leaves you gasping for air in hot basement shows, the band called it quits later that year.

A return did not seem inevitable, but it came, first with reunion shows and now with S/T, a comeback album that makes progress on all the things this restless band has always done well. Self-titled albums are handy for bands looking to make a statement, that statement usually being, “Here we are.” Rainer Maria already dropped an album called Rainer Maria a long time ago, so this one’s called S/T, and it’s a statement by a band reborn—“here we are now.”

A lot has happened in the 11 years since Catastrophe. DeMarrais released two complicatedly pretty solo records and started a family. Fischer studied Tibetan Buddhism and came out as transgender. Drummer Bill Kuehn traveled the world, studying music and living in Syria and Yemen, among other places.

Produced by Kuehn, S/T is Rainer Maria at their brightest. The songs bubble with nervous energy. Many are loud. Several are joyous, in a we’re-still-alive kinda way. Bolstered by Fischer, DeMarrais’s voice finds new depth, and comes closer to shouting than it has in a long time. This band is fired up.

“Let the rest of the world be coarse / You stay sweet for me,” DeMarrais implores on the blazing and catchy “Suicides and Lazy Eyes.” That song leads directly into “Lower Worlds,” an artful and unexpectedly groovy rocker bolstered by Fischer’s fierce backup vocals. “Communicator” is fun and ferocious, shot through with rocketing punk energy.

If there’s any of that that old apocalyptic angst left, it’s turned inward. On opener “Broke Open Love,” crashing cymbals and heavy guitar dissipate for a hopeless refrain—“I know, I know, I’m fucking up / I don’t want to fuck up”—then return with a vengeance. DeMarrais’s bass never stops careening and coiling.

“I’ll never be alone if I can help it / Talkin’ to the flowers just to have a friend,” she sings on “Forest Mattress,” one of several songs that reference the natural world as a place of mystery and refuge. The slow and spooky “Hellbore” swoons with softly spoken words and long, angular chords, recalling the shadowy beauty of Mazzy Star.

The hellbore, by the way, is an oddball in the arboreal world: It’s pretty and it’s poisonous, and it blooms in winter. A fitting metaphor for a band made both prettier and more ferocious by its own remarkable evolutionary journey.

Patrick Rapa

This Week’s Essential Releases: Psych-Pop, Indie-Pop, and Hip-Hop

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Welcome to Seven Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend six new albums, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.

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