Friday, April 15th, 2011

EMA – California

You want controversy? BOOM…


Ian Mathers: I really loved Gowns’ one album, and after I heard that EMA is Erika from that band I was eager to hear her new work, but I did not quite expect this. Something about the vocal rhythms here (and even her performance in the video) reminds me of half-speed rap, but there’s a stoned lava-flow grandeur to the crests of feedback that arc throughout “California” that’s its own other world, and her performance is by turns mysterious, off-putting, funny, harrowing, and moving. “California” is easily the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard via the Jukebox, and also one of the best; I don’t seem to be able to stop listening to it.

Kat Stevens: This song is so bad I actually want to throw my laptop in the bin. I would put it down to self-important Holden Caulfield teenage wank but EMA repeatedly states that he or she is in fact 22. Actually even if they were 14 and had just been dumped this would still be absolutely fucking unacceptable.

Zach Lyon: This would be better if she wasn’t trying to convince us that it’s a song. As spoken word + sound, it’s still not very good.

Anthony Easton: Apocalyptic thunderclap percussion, and a refusal to love Utopia like everyone should. The lyrics are hard to listen to — I mean actually hidden because they fall into this tumult of sludge and brown mud, not hard in an emotional sense — but some sections, like the quoting of the first bit of the first song of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait, the gun imagery, the 22 year old who is not afraid to die, it’s eerie and broken. Even the Dead Kennedys and Courtney Love believed in the potential of the state — is this what foreclosure, and massive unemployment and bankruptcy sounds like?

Alfred Soto: Fans of femme mystique, Wall of Sound edition: here’s a gesture recognizable to fans of late nineties Sonic Youth. If I’m not as crazy about this as some colleagues, blame the singer’s inability to make this compendium of signifiers cohere. I like my femme mystique to at least show us both where she’s taking us.

Iain Mew: This is a bit like “E-Bow the Letter”, only with no hooks and one singer playing both Michael Stipe and Patti Smith equally ineptly. The formless noise is better than the singer and “I bled all my blood out but my red pants don’t show that” did raise a smile, but it isn’t enough.

Martin Skidmore: The backing is gloomy, gothy indie electronica, over which she phrases very like Nick Cave (some lines scan exactly like some on “No Pussy Blues”). A lot of it is quotes from all over the place, presumably to some purpose, but I can’t quite pick one up. It bores me.

Jer Fairall: Something different seizes me and then proceeds to violently thrash me about each time through. There are the dated song allusions, the one that remembers a playful “Camptown Races” refrain through an oppressively gloomy haze and the other that modifies a Bo Diddley quote to propose that 22 years already constitutes enough life and experience to not mind ceasing to exist beyond it. There are the friends -—golden Gracie, Steven and Andrew —- left behind, and then the inventory of relics and relatives alike “carrying the gun,” Jospeh, Mary, Grandma and, once upon a time, herself, linked in a brutal continuum of Old Testament fury passed on through the totems of tradition and family. There’s the betrayal laced through the promise of “you’ve corrupted us all with your sexuality / tried to tell me love is free”, because of course it isn’t. But mostly there’s that early aside of “what’s it like to be small town and gay?” a question too many of 2011’s songs have danced around, or tried to dance away, with well-meaning sloganeering, ignorant of how being born this way or letting your colors burst or knowing you’re a superstar is all meaningless until you’re willing to stare down your histories and tragedies with as much fearless abandon as you approach the euphoria of liberation. Song of the year? Easily. Song of the decade? I’m far from ruling it out.

19 Responses to “EMA – California”

  1. The hell, dudes? I thought this track had been put in as a joke!

  2. Weird all around. Anyway, our new most controversial song — exactly ties with Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” in fact.

  3. I’m often excited to read my fellow Jukeboxers reactions to songs, but I gotta say this is the first time I’ve ever been scared.

  4. Damn it, another track I miss that I suspect I’d really like.

  5. Damn it, another track I miss that I suspect I’d really hate.

  6. Damn it, another track I miss that I suspect I’d give a 5 to in the end for atmosphere despite rubbing temples at desire to score lower for largely symbolic reasons.

  7. Upon listening: 7, veering toward 8. It’d be higher if I could shake the feeling that all this is a tiny bit (yes, only a tiny bit) more pretentious than it should be. Or maybe if it were an instrumental.

    Also if the last part didn’t remind me of Chicago.

  8. Hm. I guess I might actually have to watch Chicago now.

  9. (This scene, naturally. I never said it was a fair objection.)

  10. omg these scores

  11. the quoting of the first bit of the first song of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait

    I’m completely missing this. Explain…

  12. it reminds me a lot of Dylan;s All the Tired Horses, which is the first track of Dylan’s Self Portrait Album

  13. This one played out pretty much how I expected (the scores, not who gave them, necessarily). I’m kind of glad I deleted my original blurb (about 3x the length of jer’s excellent one), though. Also, I haven’t gotten around to listening to Past Life Martyred Saints yet, but Gowns’ Red State is really good, guys.

  14. I feel like a pretentious douche for loving this, but I do.

    I love it because I think it sounds like a lost Sonic Youth/Fennesz 7″, because it sounds like all the artsy indie stuff of the 90s condensed into a single moment and because it’s sweaty summer fever in song. It feels like consuming ecstasy. It’s that peak moment of exhilaration at the club before the dj drops the beat only extended over 5 minutes.

  15. Anthony: Still trying to track that Dylan song down online a day later. Who knew that’d be problem!

    Ian: Thanks for the kind words! Past Life Martyred Saint is thoroughly fantastic, I’m very pleased to report. I’m gonna have to check out the Gowns record just as soon as I tire of playing EMA’s record to death. This could take a while.

  16. its one of my favourites, but its pretty impossible to find online. whats yr email, and i can send you an mp3

  17. Thanks a bunch!


  18. I love this song. Super disappointed we reviewed it without me getting a chance to [9] it. It seems like a progression from Gowns’s “Fargo,” and that song’s dreamy mid-western tableau of sent-away soldiers and frail patriotism. Despite sounding distant and introspective, Gowns/EMA do a marvellous job of capturing some kind of zeitgeist in their work.

    I totally get why some of y’all don’t like it, but I also feel it’s a mistake to recoil automatically from the unashamedly gauche quality.

  19. Well, I definitely wish Katherine and Jonathan had blurbed it…