Welcome to Jukebox Breakdown, a column where we write about songs we love. Less about overarching themes or through-lines, Jukebox Breakdown is simply a space for our thoughts on perfect tracks.
Jukebox Breakdown: Rainer Maria – “The Double Life”
by Chad Jewett
The cover of Long Knives Drawn, the essential 2003 album from Wisconsin emo greats Rainer Maria, features a sepia-toned image of a pink sundress wreathed at the waist by a string of blades. It’s apt iconography for the LP’s mix of beauty and tension, harmony and apprehension. Indeed, many of the record’s narratives seem to plumb the discord between romance and conflict, with sounds to match. “The Double Life” underlines all of this, right down to its title, which practically serves as a caption for the LP’s front picture of sentimentalism and looming danger. The song is at once airy and tense, a wavering layer of guitars over Caithlin De Marrais and William Kuehn’s lockstep bass-and-drum thump, the kind of multi-tiered aesthetic that people have in mind when they describe a second-wave midwestern emo sound. Kaia Fischer’s guitars are equally rich: the song’s main riff is the sort of churning, half-dissonant figure that you might find on In Utero, except that Fischer has the ear to make it work as pop music. Amongst all of that is the song’s narrative, swaying between the loveliness of lines like “I looked out into the eager night” and the nervous bite of “I wasn’t paying attention and you quietly reeled me in again”. De Marrais lyrics are marked by doubt, and her performance has a way of bending each phrase into something poignantly indefinite: “You want me completely / And I’m ready / And it’s fine / And so I began the double life”. The song captures all of the fraught indecision and human complications of Long Knives Drawn, something at once lovely and unsettling.