Artists Of The Year

CMU Artists Of The Year 2011: EMA

By | Published on Wednesday 7 December 2011


EMA, or Erika M Anderson to use her full name, made the move from South Dakota to LA aged eighteen, taking her first footsteps into the music world with alt-rockers Amps For Christ and releasing a 2007 album with drone-folk pairing Gowns before electing to strike out on her own.

Her debut album, ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’, has a broad but clearly defined sonic palette, which allows for diverse variety of styles. Opening track ‘The Grey Ship’ is a seven minute opus slowly counted in before gradually building to a shuddering crescendo, followed by what EMA refers to as a “noised-out rap ballad”, ‘California’.

That the range of songs is so varied comes in part from Anderson’s tendency to write and record them in one take. Earlier this year, she told CMU: “Oftentimes I will start with a completely improvised take and build on it in the mixing process. Sometimes I find that if I try to retrack it I can never get the original quality of the first take, the honest inflections that come out when you don’t know what is going to come next”.

This is most apparent on the album’s centrepiece, ‘Marked’, a song which sounds like the calm at the centre of a storm, the sparse instruments all given a washed out, degraded sound. Lyrically it features an almost overwhelming emotional rawness, brought on as much by the lyrical content as the awkward silence in her vocals after the line: “Don’t you know that I would never hurt you, you are such a pretty thing”.

As well as these stunning originals, EMA also does a nice line in covers, including Danzig’s ‘Soul On Fire’ and Robert Johnson’s ‘Kind Hearted Woman’. But most impressive is her version of ‘Endless, Nameless’, the hidden track from Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. In a year when the stream of cover versions marking that album’s 20th anniversary seemed almost never-ending, hers really stood out, tearing new levels on intensity into a well-worn track.

You can watch the live recording of that for SPIN’s ‘Newermind’ compilation here, but I’ll leave you with another track from ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’, the brilliant ‘Milkman’.

Find more of CMU’s ten Artists Of The Year here.