I’m just 22, I don’t mind dying.
It’s the simple statements that create the basis of Past Life Martyred Saints. It’s an album of mottos, phrases that would make good tattoos. That idea would probably appeal to Erika M. Anderson, here EMA, given how physical the majority of the imagery here is. Her lyrics permanently on skin would make a certain amount of sense, after listening to the record that at times romanticizes an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Stated clearly and repeated, the simple sentences are what stick around after the melody fades.
I wish every time he touched it left a mark.
There is a basic dichotomy to the actual sound of this record. Just as EMA portrays a complicated and near-broken person, the album seems caught between genuine beauty and distortion. Both are necessary. The rough noise aids the roiling emotions while the piercing melodies keep the lyrics grounded. The album consistently alternates between static and chaotic guitars to bold, memorable tunes and strikingly beautiful a capella sections, often in the same song. This diversity, combined with the short length of the album, ensures the essentially rugged sound of the album never overstays its welcome.
These drugs are making me so sad.
A potential stumbling block for EMA’s striking style of songwriting emerges in the way she attempts to break down complex emotional turmoil into single, soul-baring phrases. She’s a minimalist, when you strip away the filler. However, a good rule of thumb when writing lyrics so intertwined with broad emotions is to understate them, make the listener make the jump to feeling. EMA does no such thing, each statement is vivid and specific. This means, on some level, she relies on a sort of cult of personality to drive the pathos home – she needs to make the pain believable for it to connect.
20 kisses with a butterfly knife.
At nearly every turn, she succeeds. The lyrics are extraordinarily courageous, and the general lack of subtlety belies an impressive deft ability for straightforward songwriting. This album is a rare breed in terms of clarity and approach. As a whole, it leaves no middle ground; if you don’t like or believe in the persona of EMA, the central conceit falls apart, but that will not happen often. Musically, Past Life Martyred Saints is not perfect, but it provides a compelling backdrop to the drama played out in the lyrics and, on occasion, will worm its way into your head.
If you don’t love me someone will.