Review: EMA | Past Life Martyred Saints

by Eliza C. Thompson

Erika M. Anderson, formerly of the drone-y indie band Gowns, has always sounded like she has some kind of demon inside her that she absolutely needs to exorcise. On Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions), her debut album as EMA, Anderson sounds close to the brink on nearly every song, like PJ Harvey’s goth cousin or an early Courtney Love. Opening track “The Grey Ship” begins with Anderson singing over quiet acoustic guitar and soft drums, until she abruptly silences the arrangement with fuzzed-out bass and distorted synth lines. As the drums build to a dark, riff-heavy, climax, it’s hard to remember the folky opening at all. Single “Milkman” is so full of psychedelic vocals and driving, grungey drums that the initial hope for an upbeat number evaporates immediately. Anderson owes a lot to ’90s-era grunge, but that’s hardly the only genre she covers. “Coda” is a short, entirely a cappella tune that could be a bizarro-world version of a shape-note gospel song, with EMA confessing her desire to “throw up on the spot.” On “California,” Anderson’s lyrics sound like spoken-word poetry. She repeats the line “I’m just 22, I don’t mind dying” a few times, a scary admission that’s pretty indicative of the mood on the whole album. EMA’s music is at times a little frightening, but it’s worth a listen (or several) to get inside her dark, talented mind for half an hour.

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