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After nearly ten years away, emo vets Rainer Maria return stronger than ever

By Liz Pelly
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In the summer of 1995, Rainer Maria formed in Madison, Wisconsin. Though they eventually moved to Brooklyn, the indie-rockers became much-beloved staples of a particular, influential Midwest emo sound. The trio released five full-length albums and toured internationally, but ultimately decided to pursue other paths in life. In 2006, Rainer Maria played one of its farewell shows at Bowery Ballroom, where the now-reunited group returns Wednesday, September 27.

Earlier this year, the band released its first album in more than a decade, a self-titled collection of songs laced with traces of its members’ lives since they were last together. In that time, vocalist and lyricist Caithlin De Marrais released a couple of solo records; guitarist and vocalist Kaia Fischer studied Buddhism and lived in Asia; drummer William Kuehn worked as a touring drummer and also lived and studied music in Syria and Yemen. “We all have different aesthetics, different approaches, different worldviews,” says Kuehn. De Marrais adds, “We were excited to find a way to knit that all together.”

On their new record, they’ve done so seamlessly: The nine songs are wise and weary, beaming with cathartic grit and crushing melodies. Opener “Broke Open Love” meditates on mistakes, learning and growth. “Suicides and Lazy Eyes” probes the world’s harshness, begging for light: “Let the rest of the world be coarse / You stay sweet for me,” De Marrais offers in muscular shouts. On “Lower Worlds,” over churning, cycling distorted riffs and drums, she and Fischer alternate sweet singing and scraping screams.

Over the years, Kuehn’s experiences in other bands helped him gain an ear for production, which he channeled on this album’s more careful and spacious pace. “That helped me be more critical, in a positive way,” he says. “It opened my ears. And helped me figure out more complex ways that everything could fit together.”

The 10 years off have helped the band members better understand Rainer Maria as a project. “Caithlin has this unique lyrical quality of talking about intensely personal material, and working out intensely personal emotional material onstage in this public setting, but in a way that still preserves her privacy,” says Fischer.

“William has always been doing a much more bodily, visceral processing of emotions,” she adds. “Because of the intense physicality of the drums, there’s not a place here for William to intellectualize his emotional work—it’s straight through the body. And it’s very powerful. I learned a lot about how to be a person from watching those two twin philosophies.”

Thinking about the reunion, Fischer says there was something precious about the band that its members couldn’t find anywhere else. “As much incredible music as we could be involved with in other places,” she explains, “this one thing was really only available in this one place.”

Rainer Maria plays Bowery Ballroom Wednesday, September 27 at 9pm (boweryballroom.com). $20.

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