EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

May 5, 2011 by  

Past Life Martyred Saints, EMA’s debut album, throws a much needed curve-ball into the current musical landscape. It’s hard to pin the sound down, but that’s the point. This chameleon quality is much remarked upon, but the band’s inconsistency is the only aspect upon which you can rely. Coda, for instance, is a one minute acappella song that sounds like an Appalachian chant; before you realise it’s over, you’re swept into the industrial wasteland of Marked, in which Anderson wistfully sings over indiscernible groaning electronics and scratchy guitars. The ease with which EMA slides between genres is impressive in its fluidity; it’s obviously a concept the band have worked on, but it doesn’t come across as contrived.

Anderson’s lyrics are guided by the same schizophrenic tendency as the music. They can be plaintive, humorous, painfully confessional and downright surreal, but they are consistently artful. In Marked, Anderson sings ‘my arms they are a see through plastic/they are a bloodless plastic see-through plastic,’ which comes across as a far-gone junky lament. The sincere is balanced playfully with the irreverent again in Anteroom, with Anderson singing ‘if this time through we don’t get it right/I’ll come back to you in another life.’ Anderson’s lyrical prowess is a marked feature of the album and provides a provoking narrative throughout.

Although EMA artfully masters genre-hopping in Past Life Martyred Saints, the general tendency is toward the gothic. The album can be overbearing in its intensity; there is no reprieve from the bands melancholic, albeit diverse, vision. Anderson’s gothic roots are the benchmark of the album and the listener is repeatedly dragged back into this oppressive landscape. Yet, Past Life Martyred Saints provides a much needed challenge to the cut-and-dry tendency of modern music, where a band will happily dwell within its carved niche, and for this, amongst many other things, it deserves recognition.

[rating:3.5]


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