Erika M. Anderson is not celebrated for a lack of gusto. Quite the opposite actually. “Fuck California/You made me boring” she exclaims amongst bassy rumbles and swelling keys; the initial words uttered in her first video for this her debut solo-album. “California” she titles the aforementioned track with little attempt to hide her scathing critique—ballsy considering she’s made a home out of Los Angeles and a career out of its music scene. Once a member and lead singer for the LA psy-folk band Gowns, Anderson, a South Dakota native, had seemingly found her Western calling with cohort Ezra Buchla. Gowns’ 2007 debut Red State had all the promise in the world woven intricately into its lush, droney instrumentals and reflective lyrics helped posture Gowns as an unarguably enticing young band. This made the group’s demise all the more disheartening but thankfully it was not the end of Anderson’s musical career. In fact with Past Life Martyred Saints EMA looks to have a bright future set out in front of her; one as expansive and rewarding as the panoramic folk-rock she has populated this debut with.
“Great grandmother lived on the prairie/Nothin'/and nothing/and nothing/and nothing.” Anderson conveys to us as “Grey Ship” exits with a bittersweet calm. The ebb and flow of bassy strums echoing in the background as she proceeds to lament: “I got the same feeling inside of me/Nothin'/and nothing/and nothing/and nothing.” This barren imagery is a fixation of hers on Past Life Martyred Saints; thematically death, longing, distance, abuse and suicide all find their place amongst the album’s tracks. The aforementioned “Grey Ship” is a pristine slow burner in which EMA eloquently narrates her transition into the afterlife; “Butterfly Knife” a buzzy homage to a fellow outsider who preferred “twenty kisses” from her blade to existence—yet the record is deceptively uplifting. “But I'm just 22/and I don't mind dyin’ “ she exclaims on “California” with such spirited exuberance it comes off as less a morose self-actualization and more a celebration in the hope one gains when they’ve truly nothing left to lose. EMA hits rock bottom frequently on Past Life Martyred Saints but she does it in such an endearingly elegant fashion.
Though for all of the record’s upsides Ms. Anderson is at times almost terminally at odds with herself. Granted on a whole this is a broken collection of battered brilliance Past Life Martyred Saints asserts itself as a bit of a mood record. And not one you must mold yourself to fit but instead the album shapes you as it wishes. At just shy of forty minutes the LP works in widescreen squeezing every moment it can out of each tick. With PJ Harvey-like brevity and skill with folksy-distortion rock reminiscent of Grouper, EMA has produced some legitimately engulfing music. The wide-eyed A capella of “Coda,” the coy grandeur of “Marked” and the sky-bound psychedelia of “Breakfast” is all at once exciting though occasionally a bit tiring. Not to infer that the music is tired in anyway—EMA and her debut sound quite unique while unarguably appealing—it is just the bi-polar levels of emotion in and of themselves create wear on a psyche. Coincidentally though, this aspect is also one of the record’s strong points; Past Life Martyred Saints is so good at transferring its emotion over to the listener one cannot help but fall in completely. Which is probably why it is a good thing this debut was limited to just nine tracks and thirty-eight minutes—it is far too easy to get lost in.
8. Butterfly Knife
9. Red Star
There are 2 artists named EMA:
1) EMA is erika anderson of the recently broken up long running American west-coast band Gowns. Using solo guitar, piano, voice and tape collage her music could not be blessed with more heartfelt beauty, it seems almost impossible the amount of intimate feeling in the sounds, taking on the piece of music as an instrument in and of itself to accompany Erika's amazing voice and lyrics.
2) Emil Macha aka EMA makes electronic music since 2006.... read more