Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: Souterrain Transmissions
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
One of my favourite Thomas Pynchon lines is from V: “Nothing was coming. Nothing was already here.” Like Erika M. Anderson’s (Amps for Christ, the secretly seminal Gowns) work, you can misread it as high school nihilism or depression or just empty academic posturing, but it’s a line that’s bloody and harrowing and triumphant, as much ecstatic and yearning as despairing.
Erika M. Anderson has talked about finding "true bliss and terror" in the live performances of her former band, Gowns. The pressure-cooker atmosphere she and her partner in that group (and in life) Ezra Buchla immersed themselves in had to crack at some point, and it did, fatally and finally, at the beginning of 2010. Anderson's way of propping open an escape hatch from the bruised purging of Gowns was to retreat into herself, by gathering her collective musical ideas and putting them out under her own initials.
Erika M. Andersen's time with Amps for Christ and Gowns shaped her into a formidable and versatile talent as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and all of her skills are on display on her solo debut as EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints. Former single “The Grey Ship” unfolds everything she learned with those bands and sums up her style as it expands on it: the seven-minute epic begins as gentle lo-fi folk and gradually ignites into electric fury, while her singing and playing blur together so expressively that she seems to sing through her guitar and shred with her vocals.
Rock music is not an uncommon way to deal with pain, either for the people who make it or for those who listen to it, but it’s rare when those raw emotions translate into a record as focused and accomplished as EMA’s debut, Past Life Martyred Saints. This is a transitional work in more ways than one, following last year’s fallout of EMA’s band, Gowns, which went relatively unnoticed for five years despite its reputation as an energetic, if caustic, live act. The breakup seems to have taken its toll on EMA (a.k.a.
As frontperson of [b]Gowns[/b], [a]EMA[/a] (then Erika M Anderson) proffered no-wave folk that was unforgettably frank. Now she’s back on her own. “[i]Fuck California[/i]”, she spits on first single [b]‘California’[/b], “[i]you made me boring/I bled all my blood out, but these red pants they don’t show that[/i]”, suggesting her departure from Gowns wasn’t all bunting and [b]‘Sorry You’re Going!’[/b] cards.
“She’s basically one of the best things that’s happened to music for years. And that’s not some PR hyperbole nonsense, I genuinely believe this. I fear I might lose my mind when I finally see her live.” So wrote Erika M. Anderson’s online press officer after delivering a copy of Past Life Martyred Saints to my inbox.
Capitalizing off the success of Fever Ray and Joanna Newsom comes Erika M. Anderson, simply known as EMA, a South Dakota native whose debut album, Past Life Martyred Saints, once again proves that the female vocal genre is constantly evolving and ultimately may one day prove to be one of the more daring genres in the music world. The album’s nine tracks each read like a confession, as Anderson’s voice whispers harsh realities and beautiful truths over an orchestra of instruments that together yield a sound that often gives a nostalgic nod at Patti Smith.
EMA confidently lets her emotions fly, never wavering and never second guessing herself. She’s confused, bitter and sometimes a little angry, but is still completely self assured. Past Life Martyred Saints is a vehicle for her to explore those emotions and to give all of us a completely honest view into her psyche. Her songwriting is wandering, stream of consciousness emotion.
Passages of thrilling unfamiliar drone-folk stand out on this alluring debut LP. Andrzej Lukowski 2011 With Sonic Youth teetering on the verge of disbandment and the 58-year-old Kim Gordon having earned the chance to put her feet up for a while, there’s an opening of sorts in the world of alt-rock for a bleached blonde icon of cool. Could Erika M Anderson – aka EMA – be it? Excitingly, it may take a while to find that out, as beneath Anderson's immaculately tousled locks, hipsterishly wasted promo pictures and penchant for guitar hero poses there lurks a much more elusive figure than one at first expects.