I paid limited attention to Erika M. Anderson’s passage through the ensembles Amps for Christ andGowns. I’m not even sure I know what AFC tracks she contributed to. Their stuff only engages me a little. I couldn’t call myself a fan. And while I enjoyed part of Red State, the album Anderson and her collaborator Ezra Buchla recorded as Gowns in 2008, I wasn’t, you know, transformed. With Past Life of Martyred Saints I surrender.
As EMA (Erika M. Anderson), Anderson takes all the archetypal, iconic female artist references, puts them in a bag, shakes them up and out spills something that’s sounds influenced, for sure, but finally unique. Let’s name them: you know, get it out of the way (we’ll return to the relevant ones where necessary) – Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Cat Power, Courtney Love (nah, sorry, don’t hear it – although I do hear Kurt). Forget about that, though. Past Life Martyred Saints is a cogent, compelling work and a doozy of a solo debut from EMA. Anderson has a sympathetic supporting cast, but she’s responsible for the songs, lead vocals and plenty of guitars. Buchla remains as a central contributor on this record, spreading plenty of John Cale magic (keys and viola) that occasionally evokes the sound of vintage Nico.