KEXP @ CMJ 2011, Day 3: EMA

photos by Brittney Bush Bollay and Victoria VanBruinisse

Erika M. Anderson began EMA in the wake of the dissolution of Gowns, but her new sound is nowhere near the electro-folk of her previous project. Rather, EMA glorifies in scuzzy guitars, apathetic vocal delivery, and a serious attitude. Combining country, goth, and grunge into a singular whole may sound like career disaster, but Anderson fuses the three effortlessly on her debut Past Life Martyred Saints. The result is a triumphant menagerie of twangy, distortion-filled rock n’ roll that’s as powerful as anything Anderson has ever done. Also impressive is her ability to switch between vocals sweet as sugar to a hoarse rasp that makes it sound like she’s been chain-smoking since birth. She’s been compared to the missing link between Siouxsie and the Banshees and Sonic Youth, which is just bizarre enough to make complete sense. In addition to her KEXP performance in the lobby of the Ace Hotel, presented by Toyota Free Yr Radio, EMA will be playing Saturday, October 22 at 7:30 pm at Webster Hall in New York.

After getting stuck in traffic and some sound issues, EMA started their set in the lobby of the Ace Hotel about ten minutes late. Playing with a drummer and electric violinist, Erika M. Anderson began the set with a building swell of free-form ambience before starting into a more recognizable lineup of songs. EMA’s songs revolve around noisy build-ups, break-downs, and Anderson’s voice, which can be whisper-soft or wailing and emotional, often within the course of a single song. Her lyrics are very intimate, descriptive, and give listeners the sense that she is really opening up and revealing something personal about herself. Before ending the set with the single “California,” EMA’s band members took a seat so that Anderson could have stage to herself. The result was one of the most intimate and affecting moments we’ve seen in the lobby of the Ace, as the entire audience’s attention was rapt as Anderson sang and softly strummed chords with such vulnerability that it seemed that even shifting in ones chair or letting out a breath might bring the performance to a halt.

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