Rainer Maria started out in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1995 as an emo band, meaning it played an ultra-emotional strand of punk rock and didn't try too hard to be tuneful. De Marrais often traded vocals with guitarist Kyle Fischer. She shouted, he warbled. A Better Version of Me (2000) yes, aptly named caught the band in transition, learning to focus. The best songs were fast and tight, helping De Marrais pull off her sometimes wordy lyrics, while the slower songs wandered, and Fischer's one lead vocal was utterly skippable. So on Long Knives Drawn (2002), the group rocked out and let De Marrais sing everything. The result had punk's speed and intensity, alt-rock melodies, and powerful precision.
Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, released last month after three years of work, also shows off Rainer Maria's strengths: De Marrais's plaintive voice, choruses that grow to ever-greater heights when repeated, elusive metaphors about tempestuous intimacy. "Catastrophe keeps us together/We're the architects of the world/And we're taking it all apart," sings De Marrais, making apocalyptic vision romantic. And on several songs, especially "Burn," a smoldering track about a destructive romance that's been getting lots of airplay on indie-rock stations, the band masters quieter moods for the first time.
Rainer Maria plays the Blind Pig on Sunday, May 14.