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Kyle Fischer - Open Ground

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Artist: Kyle Fischer

Album: Open Ground

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

How does an “emo” band grow up? Most bands in this sub-genre would deny that it even exists, yet its sound, the marriage of propulsive punk and emotive, heart-on-sleeve singing, is growing increasingly popular. Some might argue that bands like Superchunk did it better ten years ago, but that doesn’t stop a nation of teenagers bouncing to the sounds of the Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, and the Brooklyn-by-way-of Wisconsin trio Rainer Maria. It’s well known that emo bands find themselves in a tough spot. Despite whatever success they might achieve, they can still find it difficult to be taken seriously; Rainer Maria is named after a German poet, for God’s sake.

Despite this handicap, Rainer Maria has managed to become emo’s Great White Hope, the band that can shake off the tag and just be a band. They’re potential to do this comes down to two things: Incredible live shows, with guitarist Kyle Fischer careening around the stage as singer and bassist Caithlin De Marrais wails above the din like a punk Joni Mitchell, while drummer Bill Kuehn pounds wildly at the drums. The second reason is that wail; De Marrais is in possession of an amazing voice, one whose intensity and beauty are capable of turning even the most cringe-inducing lyric into something profound and affecting. And Rainer Maria’s lyrics can induce cringes. One song on their last album, sung by Fischer, details the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets at the time of his assassination.

All of this leaves Kyle Fischer’s solo debut, Open Ground, in a precarious position. By going it alone, he loses the strengths of Rainer Maria and potentially carries with him all of the band’s baggage. Despite this, however, Open Ground is a pleasant surprise, and it hints at some possible new directions for Fischer’s main gig. Here, he has opted for a much more spare, acoustic sound, with Fischer playing most of the instruments, save for drums, provided by Mike Kinsella of Cap’n’Jazz fame. Mark Haines’ production work is beautiful, layering droning organs, gentle guitars, and Fischer’s voice seamlessly. The airy, textured sound is the album’s consistent pleasure. Fischer’s lyrical preoccupations remain much the same, focusing on love, long-distance relationships, and break-ups, but his singing voice is much more restrained here than on Rainer Maria’s previous outings, and it serves the music well. Caithlin De Marrais sings on two songs, “Too Soon To Know”, and a lovely C&W cover of Otis Redding’s “Just One More Day”. Tellingly, these are the standouts of the album, and they almost make you wish that Open Ground was her record, or at least that she appeared more often. However, Fischer provides some standouts of his own, including the cello-driven opener “Headphones” and the brooding “The Slow Drag”. A largely satisfying album, and one that points to an interesting future for Rainer Maria.

By Jason Dungan

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