There’s a violence beneath Caithlin De Marrais’ vocals that breathes a sense of life-or-death immediacy into Rainer Maria’s A Better Version of Me. As the Madison, Wis., trio’s lead vocalist, De Marrais has windpipes that open wide and hit without warning, sweeping up and knocking the wind — and life — out of everyone within earshot. At her best, she leaves casualties in her wake that are necessary to any worthwhile relationship; the only way to true love is to believe it’s do-or-die, so De Marrais understands that there’s gonna be a broken heart or two buried in everyone’s past: “My baby is in the ground. And she won’t come back now.”
Unfortunately, Rainer Maria’s music is too unthreatening for the emotional weight that De Marrais’ instant and distinctly dramatic vocals demand. The music is nothing that it could, should or would be if the band weren’t confined inside its generic emo formula. While the vocals sound rattled by the rush of love when it can make, break and take you for all you’re worth, the music often sounds bland, ordinary, cowardly: “Thought I Was” and “Ceremony” leave traces of blood on the tracks, but most of the album barely scrapes the surface. And what’s the point in living and loving if you’re not willing to risk a little bloodshed?
E-mail Jimmy Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org.