Past Life Martyred Saints
May 13, 2011 Web Exclusive
Some artists make a compelling case for the power of moping. Take fractured folk songstress Erika M. Anderson—who after the demise of droning-folk duo Gowns, regrouped and presented herself as a solo artist, EMA. Her first full-length Past Life Martyred Saints is a skittering trip through the displaced troubadour’s disjointed existence. In a voice not unlike Kim Gordon’s visceral wail, Anderson curates the set of nine spooky, art-damaged tunes. “I’m just 22 I don’t mind dying,” she sings on near-spoken word, Bo Diddley-cribbing, “California.” It’s easy to believe. Anderson’s attraction is her unease—a tension so thick it would take a lifetime of sunshine to eradicate.
While the ennui is predominantly directed inward—with such lines as “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark” (“Marked”) rasped so convincingly it’s tough not to feel her emotional wounds—it’s impossible to dismiss Past Life Martyred Saints as mere navel-gazing. “I know nothing lasts forever/If you won’t love me, someone will,” Anderson howls in aggressive album closer “Red Star.” Angst with perspective? Yes, she is the kind of girl who will take life’s (emotional) beatings and still rise above them. (Courtney Love, take note.)
Also capable of turning the lens outwards, some of the album’s best moments come from external tales—as is the case with Goth-killing-themed “Butterfly Knife,” a disorienting, dense cacophony of voice and guitars that rattles like a lo-fi audition for My Bloody Valentine. However, it’s fidelity-shifting opening track “The Grey Ship” that truly marks EMA as a contender for angst-rock royalty. A slow burning, seven-minute track, filled with eerie harmonies, slide-guitar, and arrhythmic percussion, Anderson tests the limits of sorrow—and finds glory in the gloom. (www.cameouttanowhere.com)
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