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Rainer Maria

Rainer Maria is a trio of transplanted Wisconsinites now living in New York who have become one of the shining lights in the increasingly tired emo scene. Without question, the band is guilty of most, if not all, of the transgressions of your run-of-the-mill neighborhood emo group -- the quiet-loud musical dynamics, the almost painful sincerity, the frenetic yet sensitive instrumental attack, the relentlessly catchy pop melodies -- but Rainer Maria does all those things with such subtlety and elegance that they seem sometimes to be playing an entirely different kind of music. What's more, they pepper their songs with a dense array idiosyncratic flourishes, unique touches, and quiet insights, making them an utterly distinctive delight to listen to.

Rainer Maria got going in Madison, Wisconsin in the summer of 1995 when longtime friends and musical collaborators Kyle Fischer and William Kuehn tapped Caithlin De Marrais, a friend of Fischer's from a University of Wisconsin poetry writing workshop, to play bass in their band. Given these poetic origins, it seemed only appropriate to dub the trio Rainer Maria, after the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Soon the band was touring extensively and quickly became popular in the thriving mid-'90s Midwestern emo scene. Two short-players, a self-titled EP, and the "New York: 1955" seven-inch preceded Rainer Maria's first full-length, Past Worn Searching. That 1997 release was a giant success, a sparkling, uncommonly pretty record that took emo's simple angst and energy and made it arty.

The band toured extensively in support of their first LP before returning to the studio to record Look Now Look Again, a graceful, surprisingly quiet indie pop record full of gorgeous boy/girl harmonies and intelligent, concise songwriting. It came out in the spring of 1999. A few months later Rainer Maria released the gentle three-song "Atlantic" EP. Then they relocated to upstate New York, where they holed up in a barn and started recording again. The result was their lovely third album, A Better Version of Me, which hit stores in early 2001. As always, the fascinating give-and-take interplay between the three musicians produces a dynamic sound that seems spacious even when hushed and restrained. De Marrais handles most of the vocal duties, but she and Fischer duet on a few tracks, producing those trademark heartstring-tugging Rainer Maria harmonies.

You can find "Made in Secret" on the band's first self-titled EP, "Sickbed" on Past Worn Searching, "Broken Radio" and "Breakfast of Champions" on Look Now Look Again, and "Artificial Light" on A Better Version of Me.