Published in MV Remix, 2011
Deeply personal and oftentimes downright frightening, EMA’s debut album Past Life Martyred Saints taps into the listener’s psyche like a lullaby from beyond the grave. Whether the subject matter, grim as it is, is meant to be sarcastic or sincere remains to be seen. Stylistically, EMA (Erika M. Anderson) does little to hide her musical influences. At first, you’d swear you were listening to an LP by Kim Gordon’s long lost little sister. Think a slightly stripped-down Sonic Youth.
That being said, don’t label Anderson an imposter. She sets herself apart by implementing some intriguing, albeit daring production techniques. What makes this album work so well is the…well…emptiness of it.
Filled with remarkably haunting songs about self-mutilation, depression-numbing drug use, and relationships gone horribly, horribly wrong, Anderson matches this bleak and brutal subject matter with an equally stark, chilling ambiance. Often accompanied by nothing more than a lone, demented guitar or piano, Anderson’s voice echoes out into the ether with unbridled intensity and longing. Past Life Martyred Saints is a back to basics album completely stripped of any high production value, and its supposed to be that way. Channeling the likes of Kurt Cobain and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, the album is sparse and chilling, and plays like a horror soundtrack recorded in a dank, deserted mansion or cobweb infested dungeon. Listening to it, we are torn to shreds, compelled to wallow in her tangle of agony and paranoia as she lays her torment bare for all to hear.
With sudden shifts in mood and intensity and anxiety-inducing breaks in the songs, we are instantly pulled out of our comfort zone and thrust into a uniquely terrifying soundscape. Take, for example, “Grey Ship”, in which, halfway through the song, all instrumentation suddenly drops, leaving us alone with only her voice.
Other notable songs such as “Coda”, a bizarre, shrieking accapella track that attacks the eardrum like nails on a chalkboard, stand out. While it might be a challenge to listen to, it certainly shows that Anderson is a one-of-a-kind artist who deserves our attention.
Tough to digest, Past Life Martyred Saints is not a universally appealing album by any stretch of the imagination. But through its brutal honesty and wholly original production, it does show that artistic integrity is still alive and well. Plus, next time the crew on Law and Order: SVU finds a murdered teenager in the woods, we know whose music they’ll be playing during the cut scene.