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EMA
Past Life Martyred Saints
Souterrain Transmissions
Format: CD / LP / Digital
Release Date: May 10, 2011
By Toby Rogers August 24, 2011

“Fuck California, you made me boring / I bled all my blood out but these red pants don’t show that,” sings former Gowns frontwoman Erika M. Anderson on her stunning debut album as EMA. A startling anti-ode to the Golden State, standout track “California” is brutal in its delivery. A painful listen, it reveals a songwriter unashamed of baring her soul on wax. A dark deconstruction of the West Coast dream, it’s a violent barrage of pure drone-psych, and a perfect introduction to a musician for whom artistry and honesty go hand in hand.

Inspired by the filmmaking concept of juxtaposing acts of beauty and kindness with bleak surroundings, Past Life Martyred Saints is a haunting combination of drones and static that Anderson says feels like the weather in the Great Plains. Recorded in her own space with the help of a friend’s copy of Pro Tools and an array of plug-ins, the album tries to capture the jarring noise in her head, a sound she likens to listening to crackling oldies radio while driving through a thunderstorm.

An album with nothing to lose, Past Life Martyred Saints was born out of failure: Anderson’s perceived failure with Gowns (who broke up in early 2010 after a five-year stretch), her failure establishing meaningful relationships in Los Angeles, and her failure to complete a concept album based on Native American folk music. A last shot at establishing her musical career out West before admitting defeat and moving back with her parents in South Dakota, Anderson’s do or die approach lends the album a starkness that’s compelling.

Heavily influenced by 1990s rock chicks PJ Harvey, Bikini Kill, and Courtney Love, Anderson blends tinnitus-inducing noise with fragile lyrics that explore intense personal angst. Like the country bluesmen of the 1920s  and 30s, she uses her songwriting as a means of self-exorcism, driving away her demons with open-faced introspection. From the apocalyptic rush of opener “The Grey Ship” to the agonising beauty of album closer “Red Star,” Past Life Martyred Saints is nothing short of extraordinary.

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