Friday, July 22, 2011

EMA- Past Life Martyred Saints REVIEW

Formerly of the now-defunct rock band Gowns, Erika M. Anderson aka EMA arrives with Past Life Martyred Saints, a debut LP that replaces her former’s band’s excessive bleakness with jaded thoughtfulness. This isn’t to say that EMA has embraced a new, quasi-cheerful approach- Past Life Martyred Saints is relentlessly intense and overflowing with painful, scarring imagery. But none of it feels lurid or exploitative. Anderson does not expose herself here for attention, but instead for catharsis. This is a decisively alone album- therefore she leaves the participation up to the listener. In many ways, she is the anti-Mazzy Star

Past Life Martyred Saints is a slow burn that never quite explodes instead opting to incinerate. This is made evident right from the beginning with lo-fi opener “The Grey Ship”, a seven-minute opus that structurally shifts in style several times before ending with a fading solo of whispery vocals. It’s a ballsy move to begin an album this way, but Anderson seems confident in both her arrangements and songwriting skills. In songs like “California”, the written word legitimately adopts a stream of consciousness tone to tackle themes such as existentialism and isolation. While in “Marked” and “Butterfly Kisses”, she gives us two unnerving tracks that roll their sleeves up and revel in the scars caused by physical abuse. The lyrics and imagery here are almost overwhelmingly vivid (“I wish that every time he touched me left a mark…”) and conveyed with a scratchy world-weariness- as if to say that while the scars run deep, she is still breathing. This is an intimate experience we are involved in with Anderson- to the point where it’s easy to confuse listening with eavesdropping. But the true irony here (and also an indicator that Anderson is a brilliant songwriter) is that EMA boasts an initiative that surprisingly renders Past Life Martyred Saints a feel-good album. As “Red Star” drifts to a close, an undeniable sense of peace and relief washes over the production. And while I’m not sure when I will muster up the stamina to give this therapeutic exercise another spin, I feel nonetheless stronger for having participated.

- Fr. Jones

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