Released 10th May 2011 on Souterrain Transmissions
Chart Performance: EMA failed to chart in the UK but did enjoy two weeks on the US Billboard chart.
What The Critics Said: “This is a feverish, sulking, and extremely stoned record, but it loves you and wants to be close to you, because to mark and be marked is the only way out.” The Village Voice
Cool is one of the hardest things to define in all of pop music, some acts have it in spades, while others, no matter how hard or how good they become, will never be cool (Paul McCartney springs immediately to mind), but it’s a quality that Erika M. Anderson exudes almost perpetually. Seeing EMA live is a riot, for a band who achieved notoriety for a series of bleak portentous recordings, the singer herself is anything but serious, and she’s certainly not straight laced. She’s loose, drunk, effortlessly charismatic, free spirited and emanates an easy going charm, making the band’s live show surprisingly inclusive and, the star herself, surprisingly approachable.
Past Life Martyred Saints is even more astounding when viewed in this context. The grippingly ominous tones, the theatrical downcast delivery and the at times dementedly disturbed imagery speaks to a depression and sorrow within us all. There’s a democracy to EMA, that allows us to consider that miserable introspection isn’t sole territory of the gothic deadpan female frontwoman, it belongs just as readily to boundful, blonde and giggly. Seen in this light, it’s easier to reconcile the tortured soul and warped sounds of “The Grey Ship” with the free flowing “Fuck California” stream of consciousness of the should-have-been album closer “California”, and goes ways to explain the menacing enjoyable schizophrenia of “Butterfly Knife”.
While Erika’s ability to flit between casual cool and deadly serious may prove utterly riveting, the densely structured arrangements shouldn’t be overlooked. EMA layer mutilated violins over fizzing electric guitars, cracklingly awkward drum work and, when the time is right, blistering bass lines. It may not be a danceable, and it’s not remotely hip-hop, but there will be few finer bass drops heard this year than that at 2:50 mark of “The Grey Ship”. While the oppressively frustrated mood that exudes from both the arrangements and Erika’s vocals may prove to the be the band’s winning attribute, what truly makes EMA, and Past Like Martyred Saints, sensational is the band’s willingness to just let rip. To rant on “California”, to do a multi-tracked country pastiche on “Coda”, and to have the thudding detuned bass slaps on the harrowing “Marked”. Few debut albums ever dare to be this wildly ambitious, but ironically, by sounding so accomplished, and so effortless, EMA raised less eyebrows than you would expected and they deserved. David Hayter