Monday, 23 May 2011

"Like a red star/ Like a bruised scar": EMA's deconstructed grunge

EMA is Erika M. Anderson, formerly of Gowns. The other week she played the Macbeth in London and shot an arrow through my grunger girl heart. There's something so simple and fresh about her record, Past Life Martyred Saints, despite its constituent parts being mined from other genres - lo-fi, riot grrrl, grunge, folk, noise - that it made me want to grab my guitar. Not many records I like at the moment can say that. I'm feeling a rock revival coming on (might be limited to one bedroom in N5).

This is the single, 'California', and although it's pretty different to the rest of the album it's a hell of a calling card. Below is my live review for L&Q.

First published in Loud And Quiet

EMA at the Macbeth, London
11th May 2011

Seventy-two inches of bleached-blonde, bourbon-soaked, stung-lipped American Woman lopes on stage in hotpants and grabs a star-covered guitar. Erika M. Anderson, wearing a necklace bearing her alias EMA, ain’t too easily ignored. Formerly of Gowns, the cult drone rock duo that imploded at the end of 2009, EMA tonight plays through most of Past Life Martyred Saints, a debut of deconstructed grunge that places her bold-but-fragile voice at the eye of the storm, circled by drawn-out riffs and warped desert rock.

Stripped of the record’s extensive multi-tracking and distortion, that voice takes on a different character, somehow more vulnerable, like a runaway teen with too many tall tales and battle scars. Between songs she jokes with us, slurring her words as she snaps on her “showtime suspenders” (patterned with piano keys), but it's a clownish fa├žade that slips once the guitar kicks in and she's spitting her stories of high school and violence and bluebirds and the Viking funeral ships that bear her ancestors.

Closing with 'California', an astonishing ode to the state that “made me boring”, she pulls the mic lead round her neck like a noose and raises two fingers on her right hand: the all-American ambassador, armed with religious blessings and a gun. We're not so much her audience as her battle casualties, joyously martyred to serrated edge rock and roll.

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