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Rainer Maria Returns With 'Lower Worlds,' From Its First Album Since 2006

On August 18, Rainer Maria returns with <em>S/T</em>, its first album since 2006.
Shawn Brackbill
Courtesy of the artist
On August 18, Rainer Maria returns with S/T, its first album since 2006.

Rainer Maria's story began in Wisconsin and, at least for a time, ended in New York. In the interim, a span stretching from the mid-'90s to the mid-aughts, the band found and refined the sound it was born to play: a tense, wordy, emotionally wound-up bundle of jagged guitars, literary references and vocals that could harmonize beautifully or crash into each other discordantly. Rainer Maria's songs exuded raw, life-and-death drama befitting the group's youth, and every second felt unabashedly sincere.

Since the band's dissolution in 2006, its members have headed down vastly different paths: Caithlin De Marrais released a pair of fine solo pop-rock records that toned down her old band's intensity; Kaia Fischer studied Tibetan Buddhism, lived in Asia and came out as trans; William Kuehn moved around, at various points living in Syria and Yemen, and played music wherever his travels took him. Which makes it all the more satisfying that they've found themselves, 11 years later, making a new record that both sounds like Rainer Maria and reflects the far-flung journeys they've taken individually.

Produced by Kuehn, S/T — it may be short for self-titled, but it's not self-titled — comes out August 18. And, as its first single "Lower Worlds" suggests, the raw nerves of Rainer Maria's early records have given way to something a bit more restrained. "Lower Worlds" rumbles and surges at an even pace, as the vocals of De Marrais and Fischer deliver welcome jolts en route to a furious finish. It's an ideal comeback vehicle — familiar enough for those who've missed the band dearly, but fresh enough to tread new ground.

"When we wrote 'Lower Worlds,' the whole album began to come together," Fischer writes via email. "It encapsulated everything we'd been working towards — hypnotic drive; intense, open energy; and a kind of sensuality I'm not sure we've ever managed before at that level — and it brought it all together in one place. It's unmistakably, I think, our band, but the sound is totally fresh, something we hadn't heard ourselves do before."

S/T comes out August 18 via Polyvinyl.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)