Who else draws references to Lisa Germano, John Cage and the Troggs?
Katherine St Asaph: Nothing that reminds me this strikingly of Lisa Germano (sound and sentiment, and not past Lullaby for Liquid Pig, yeesh) can be bad. That it mellows later on is only a bonus.
Michaelangelo Matos: Almost gave this a 1 based on that getting-low part alone: I’m not a fan of dudes being guttural as a show of intensity, either. But I’ll be fairer while still noting that stuff with (I think) harmonium that evokes a creaky basement really never does it for me.
Anthony Easton: How does she make the acoustic guitar sound like a Cagean prepared piano? Strangled vocals, long deserts of noise, bleak and foreboding, and not lovely in the slightest — but it’s November and I’m waiting for winter, so it’s kind of perfect.
Edward Okulicz: This is a creepy, interesting mood piece which nonetheless tests endurance even on the first listen. I can’t tell whether the organ lift redeems or ruins it, to be honest.
Hazel Robinson: I was actually getting into this before that fucking organ showed up. Up until that point it was some unlistenable bullshit, which I love. The introduction of the chiming pastiche, though, removed the power from the tuneless parts and neutered everything, like she was scared to see the execution through to the end which exactly the kind of timorous douche behaviour that you can’t engage with if you’re making unlistenable bullshit.
Alfred Soto: Post-industrial ambience shouldn’t signify on its own. Organs can, however.
Iain Forrester: This is creepy and unpleasant and makes me feel slightly voyeuristic when listening to it. The fact that that was probably what she was going for, and that I can’t think of much else that has managed it better, makes it more than a zero. There’s some kind of craft to appreciate in that, but I can’t imagine ever wanting to listen to it again.
Sally O’Rourke: I don’t blame EMA for wanting to make music as raw and ugly as how she feels inside. But a record as grating and belabored as “Marked” seems less like authentic expression and more like a burlesque of depression, with EMA contorting herself to prove that (to quote Mclusky) her pain and sadness is more sad and painful than yours. It’s only when she finally lets a bit of light in, via organ and multi-tracked cooing, that “Marked” begins to resonate. What’s heartbreaking isn’t EMA wallowing in the muck; it’s her straining for the rope that could pull her out and finding it just out of reach. Shame, then, that this fleeting moment of tarnished beauty is preceded by three minutes of sloppy croaking and fingernail-on-chalkboard guitar squeaks.
Jonathan Bogart: The last-second quotation of the bassline from “Love Is All Around” clinches it, making me revise my entire conception of the song’s structure and in particular Erika Anderson’s intent. Foggy, generically ambient mood becomes drip-feed rhythm, moaning about need becomes an evocation of a high-fever state, when every touch burns and flesh rubs raw. It’s uncomfortable in all the right ways.
Jonathan Bradley: Erika M. Anderson’s tune is emaciated, the musical embodiment of her lyric’s insistence that the corporeal is alien and nauseating. “My arms are see-through plastic/They are glass,” she croaks while undead guitars buffet her anxiety. Ironically, her anxiety actually revolves around an inability to turn the alien corporeal: “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark” is her mantra, a desire for emotional intensity to realize itself in physical terms. A blow is better as a bruise than a memory, and “Marked” leaves its contusion when the tension dissolves into a numbed, healing wash of organ that infuses the mix like a warm bath. “These drugs are making me so sad,” admits Anderson in a new voice, a clear high tone quite unlike the sandpaper rasp she relied upon earlier. “I want just to get out.” Whether it’s about addiction or plain misery, her rediscovering of her own humanity makes for a glorious, gorgeous moment, even while it’s not an uplifting one.
Brad Shoup: If you had told me Hope For Agoldensummer scored Jennifer’s Body, I would have seen it, like, one million times.
Jer Fairall: Midway through Past Life Martyred Saints, “Marked” is preceded, in typically perverse fashion, by a short piece called “Coda” which serves to lay out one of the former’s two main gut-punch lyrics, relating the horror of “these drugs are making me so sad / and I can’t stop taking them” in a kind of demented, multi-tracked a cappella. Yet, “Coda” is downright playful compared to what “Marked” makes of the same sentiment, her voice sounding as if it is being recorded from a position to the microphone that can only be described as uncomfortably intimate. It would have to be, though, to register over those brutal sweeps of her guitar strings, as sharp and tactile as a knife held to the throat. The violence can only escalate from there, but rather than coming in the predictable form of a burst of noise or anything like that, she hits us with another blow in the form of “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark,” sung in a voice that so dry it sounds on the verge of cracking from dehydration. It is one of the most harrowing things on one of the most harrowing records I have ever heard, yet one that sums up its purpose better than any other individual moment. Past Life Martyred Saints is about bearing the weight of experience, about needing even the most punishing and best-avoided ones to matter, about why surviving, no matter what the toll, is still better than victimization. It is how the characters that inhabit Erika M. Anderson’s stories can get away with being referred to as martyrs and saints, acutely aware as they all must be that their past lives are really just their current ones still bleeding so heavily all over them.