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Wednesday January 17, 2001

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Rainer Maria

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A Better Version of Me


Grade: A

Albums released in January or February face steep odds if they aspire to top-ten list greatness. Like early Oscar contenders, these winter releases have to weather nearly an entire year's worth of competition, ensuring that only the most memorable - the very best - early-year offerings will still be on critics' radars come December.

So here's an utterly reckless prediction, given that 2000 is just two weeks gone - A Better Version of Me, the third full-length from New York City indie-rockers Rainer Maria, will find its place on many a music fan's personal best list of 2001.

When it comes to powerful, emotive rock-and-roll, Rainer Maria have long been at the head of the class - the stirring melodies and insightful, poetic lyrics on 1999's Look Now Look Again, while a trifle rough around the edges, attracted considerable national attention. Version fulfills Look Now's promise - tracks like "Spit and Fire" resonate with swelling guitar chords and warm, rich bass lines while singer Caithlin DeMarrais delivers her earnest, personal lyrics in ringing, bell-like tones: "Knowing that you've opened up yourself to me is no victory/But a consolation prize will suffice tonight."

The album is by no means perfect - while DeMarrais and fellow songwriter Kyle Fischer exhibit admirable restraint for a pair of former poetry students, a few glitches, like the somewhat self-indulgent "The Contents of Lincoln's Pockets," slip through. (That said, the song is still probably the most rocking tune ever to include the word "disseminate").

Overall, however, Version is a cohesive and utterly satisfying whole, a compelling blend of emotion, energy and erudition that leaves the listener eager for more.

-Phil Leckman