EMA : Past Life Martyred Saints

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Erika M. Anderson used to be in a band called Gowns. Some of the press for this band’s solo debut referenced psychological and physical turmoil with a backstory. Ten years ago I might have viewed these signposts as a source of real intrigue. While the next piece of NBA playoff coverage is more likely to imbue me with juvenile enthusiasm these days, Past Life Martyred Saints proves a good reminder that there is plenty about cracked anguish and fractured melody to take as well as leave.

The album begins with an ominous protraction, which is interspersed well with moments of stark immediacy throughout. “The Grey Ship” replicates Cat Power’s Moon Pix at a sorrow’s pace which recalls the Cure’s “Lullaby,” and then takes a jilted turn towards Leah Hayes territory. “California” is rather stunning, and somewhat akin to Courtney Love circa Live Through This summoning bad things while Godspeed and Primal Scream’s “Come Together” crackle out from the next room. Anderson provides a Ginsberg worthy rant capable of making mundane self-assessment noteworthy, and some of it (notably a flawed “fifty one-fifty” love) is cutting enough without vitriol.

Parts of the record are more OK than arresting. “Milkman” seems destined to skirt edges, but pushes back by submerging itself in bursts of joyous dirge like Scary Mansion’s “No Law.” The tales of sharp objects and high school on “Butterfly Knife” are reminiscent of My Chemical Romance, albeit with Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death style noisiness replacing bubblegum infection. These are merely adequate blips though. An ode to drug and technology induced paralysis, which begins as a Janis Joplin and Sixteen Horsepower-style revival on the intermission “Coda” is amped up on the adjoining “Marked.” This becomes a power ballad with shades of George Romero and Ultravox circa Systems of Romance. Both songs induced repeated listening. “Breakfast” makes wilted introspection palatable like Liz Phair on top form.

Past Life Martyred Saints is a good album and contains some exceptional songs. It largely succeeds at rendering instrumental abrasion easily accessible. I struggle to identify with parts of the lyrical content and intent on display (perhaps a side effect of aging), but the bits that hit home support the instinctive feeling that Anderson says her piece rather well.

Similar Albums:
Scary Mansion – Make Me Cry
Liz Phair – Whip Smart
Ultravox – Systems of Romance

Video: EMA – “California”

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