Wednesday, June 29, 2011

EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints

By looking at this album cover, what kind of music would you guess it garners? Well, maybe you have a better guess than I did, but in seeing this cover I imagined something along the lines of dance pop, party sort of music. I think it's the necklace that does it. However this album is certainly far removed from dance music of any sort.
Erika M. Anderson (aka EMA) is a singer/songwriter from the midwest that used to be in a band called Gowns, which I haven't listened to but I've heard described as "freak folk" or "noise folk". I suppose you could put this album in the same category. What you have here are acoustics, EMA's raw, emotional, sometimes shaky vocals, and a lot of filters put through. There are times in this album where the instruments are swelled to a wall of sound, not unlike noise rock, and there are times where it sounds much more singer/songwriter-ish. And the album flip flops between them in a way that actually makes it pretty appealing. EMA always has very abrasive lyrics here, but very honest, not unlike most singer/songwriter's. And she doesn't try to sound pretty when she sings, not at all. Her voice can almost be brooding at times with her half-singing half-talking, and it can get pretty powerful when things start getting noisy
The mood of this album is definitely not on the positive side. It isn't the most depressing or angry album I've ever heard, but it's what could be described as a "bedroom album". Something you listen to on a Friday night when you're home alone and sick of the world. The lyrics sound like the kind of things you'd write in your journal as a stream of conscious, you're not paying attention to any sort of rhyme scheme or the words flowing through together, but when they're sung here EMA's approach to vocals only compliments it and makes them feel like they could be something from your own personal journal. In some songs she sounds very angry and negative (California), going on about the things she can't stand, and in others she's more vulnerable (Marked), and she switches between the two like most people with emotional problems do. I think everyone can relate to that feeling of not being able to control your emotional swings like that. And reading the lyrics along with listening can add another layer to the experience. So this album is cathartic, to say the least.
Yet despite all these compliments, I'm still not totally loving this album. I definitely like, but it's not completely blowing me away like it is some people. I really really like the honesty I get from this album, which is what attracts me to most singer/songwriter music. However the main problem this album suffers from is having it's best song being the first on the album. Now this isn't always a problem, I know a ton of albums that have their best song as the first, being the thing that draws you in and sets the mood and tone for the rest of the experience. Here it seems like it would be a much more appropriate closing track. I know it sound like I'm nit picking, and I suppose I am, but after the opening song it seems like nothing else quite adds up to it. Not to mention that the first track is the most "accessible" song, so it's very possible that it could leave the wrong impression. On this album there are a few songs that I really really enjoy, only one being in the second half and even then just barely. There are only nine songs on this album, and the last three or so in my opinion fall really flat and just don't close the album like it should. Others might feel different but since I got this album it's been the kind where I go in, listen to my favorite songs off of it, then usually turn it off at that point. So while there are a lot of things I like here, and there are songs I could say I love, as a whole it just doesn't quite hold up like I think it should. 
I will say that I'm excited to see what's next for EMA and where she'll go next, and hope that her next album fixes the issues I had with this one. I'd suggest this album for those that like their singer/songwriters to be female, and more on the experimental side. And also for those that are looking for some more sad and emotional 2011 albums. But if you don't like singer/songwriter or "sadcore" music, then you won't like this. Check it out and see what you think of what a lot of people are calling one of their favorites of the year.


Favorites: The Grey Ship, Anteroom, Marked.


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