Album Review: EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints

on Monday, May 16, 2011
EMA - 'Past Life Martyred Saints' (UK Release: 9 May '11) //
Words: Simon Opie

EMA is the new band formed by California resident Erika M Anderson, also of Gowns, and 'Past Life, Martyred Saints' is their first album. ‘Big Sound’ is definitely in fashion just now – see how Beastie Boys have piled on the layers on their new album – but it’s quite easy to get lost in the soundscapes. This is a pitfall that EMA has successfully avoided.

Borrowing a trick or two from Kurt Cobain, Anderson has applied the quiet/loud dynamic to the song structures on the album, and in doing so has created moments of real beauty that get washed out by waves of noise. And I suspect that’s the central theme of the album – the subversion of beauty by the realities of life as it’s actually lived.

To anyone who knows the Gowns album, 'Red State', this album will sound familiar but it’s a giant leap onwards in terms of both studio technique and the central role of Anderson’s voice, which is rather stunning, in the delivery of the material. The transformation of her simple but affecting vocal melodies by disconcerting, aurally dense instrumentation, kicks in straight away on the opener 'The Grey Ship'.

Repetition both lyrical and musical is another motif that characterises the songs – as on the excellent 'Marked' where the mantra-like "Wish that every time he touched me left a mark" is repeated over a jagged musical passage which includes a disturbing slapping sound. There’s a similar sense of foreboding on the following song 'Breakfast' – "Mama’s in the bedroom, don’t you start" – which has palpable menace.

STREAM: EMA - California by La Chunga Publishing

All of the nine songs are distinctive and strong, from the PJ Harvey sounding 'Milkman' to the standout 'California' which has an almost rap style to it, to the truly angry 'Butterfly Knife', and its "Twenty kisses with the butterfly knife". The songs seem to be intensely personal but they’re hard to pin down – leaving a sense of an elusive but very dark shadow – it’s life on the edge of madness.

I really do like this album and I think it showcases an exceptional talent in Erika Anderson (check out also EMA's cover of Danzig's 'Soul On Fire' - it's terrific). 'Past Life, Martyred Souls' pulls you in to its murky, uneasy depths, and then spits you out with crystal clear passages that make everything seem so understandably normal. It’s seriously challenging and highly entertaining – just how great rock music ought to be.


DOWNLOAD: EMA - Milkman by souterraintransmissions

'Past Life Martyred Saints' is available to purchase from your local retailer, iTunes, etc.

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