Capitalizing off the success of Fever Ray and Joanna Newsom comes Erika M. Anderson, simply known as EMA, a South Dakota native whose debut album, Past Life Martyred Saints, once again proves that the female vocal genre is constantly evolving and ultimately may one day prove to be one of the more daring genres in the music world. The album’s nine tracks each read like a confession, as Anderson’s voice whispers harsh realities and beautiful truths over an orchestra of instruments that together yield a sound that often gives a nostalgic nod at Patti Smith. Past Life Martyred Saints is the documentation of what seems to be Anderson’s journey from South Dakota to Los Angeles and offers a ride that any listener should feel much obliged to take.
Anderson’s lyrics are her strongest trait, with the album’s single “California” being the most poignant example. The song, which is by far the strongest of the record, is a classic in the making, as Anderson’s proclamations in regards to the entire state of being of California are impossible to not sink your teeth into. A track that mostly resembles Fever Ray in instrumentation, “California” showcases Anderson’s rawness and a batch of lyrics that would make Janis Joplin a little wet. When it ends, it continues, an emotional ride that lingers into the few tracks that follow, but never again is the brilliance of “California” met by another track, which is a shame. The album’s other standouts, “Anteroom” and “Breakfast” are the closest Anderson comes to finding that perfect blend of low lying instruments and multiple vocal layers, with the latter showcasing a Bat For Lashes quality that makes for a fun twist towards the end of the album.
A record that is both magical and heartbreaking, Past Life Martyred Saints looks to be a beautiful start for Anderson, who has a small handful of live shows set up for the summer. The album is a culmination of female vocal power, with Anderson borrowing, recreating, and updating a sound that so many females before her have revolutionized. EMA undoubtedly owes her predecessors much thanks, but also deserves praise for her contributions to the genre.