EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Erika M Anderson is audibly affected by every touchstone of her life. She is aversely taken by the tide of her existence, of which she rides on the most precarious of rafts. Every break in her voice and shriek of her guitar hints towards one thing, escapism.

Released May 3rd, 2011 via Souterrain Transmissions / By Mark Beckett
EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions) Escapist expeditions vary from song to song, from moving homeland, to love, drugs and even death on the forthright 'California' as she cries out "I'm just 22 and I don't mind dying". This bitter rant denouncing her adopted home contains direct apologies to the likes of Bo Diddley and Stephen Foster yelping "fuck California, you make me boring" over buoyant piano chords.

The precedent for Past Life Martyred Saints is set when she fantasises over personal saviour on album opener 'Grey Ship', her principal metaphor for escapism. But this is no Albion set sail in search of Arcadia, this has deeper truths beyond the ideals of Doherty and Barat. EMA is a direct descendant of 10th century Scandinavian ruler Eric Bloodaxe and her inner-Viking rises to the surface as she gasps "when the grey ship calls it is calling for me".

This seven minute epic transforms midway through from a light strummy crooner into a fuzz-ridden lo-fi track, separated by a haunting bass drop. Something she does quite frequently is switch up the recording techniques in the middle of a track to transform the whole feeling in an instant.

The freedom offered by her DIY recording techniques and limited knowledge of production conventions means you get an honest reflection of the way EMA visualises each song, you can almost see into her dangerously complicated mind. Whether it's the tender and vulnerable piano ballad 'Breakfast', the disruptive drone of 'Butterfly Knife' or the trashy dance of 'Milkman', all the songs create an illustration of EMA's troubles.

'Marked' is an emotional peak in Past Life Martyred Saints, it feels like it could combust at any moment. EMA's vocals gasp for air as they painfully rasp and croak their way through heartfelt lines such as "I wish every time he touched me left a mark". This epitomises EMA's physical nature and her inability to understand emotions without having something to show for them, the same way every sound echoes something concrete and real.

On final track 'Red Star' her signature shuddering guitar groans claw their way into a finale of imploring vocals and frenzied drumming. The lyric provides the final piece to the jigsaw of EMA's liberation, the 'red star', the one thing she holds on to, her light that never goes out.

After making such a heart-wrenching and despairing yet adoringly hopeful album, is she still lost? Has she been found? Is she stuck in emotional limbo? Has she finally been physically scarred by emotional pain? Has Stephen Foster accepted her apology? Has she found her 'red star'? Wherever she is, the grey ship is calling, and it's calling for EMA.