Erika M. Andersen's time with Amps for Christ and Gowns shaped her into a formidable and versatile talent as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and all of her skills are on display on her solo debut as EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints. Former single “The Grey Ship” unfolds everything she learned with those bands and sums up her style as it expands on it: the seven-minute epic begins as gentle lo-fi folk and gradually ignites into electric fury, while her singing and playing blur together so expressively that she seems to sing through her guitar and shred with her vocals. But what makes Past Life Martyred Saints so striking is its complete openness; Andersen's music is somehow direct even when it sprawls like her adopted hometown of Los Angeles. The way her weathered voice sighs “If this time through we don’t get it right/I’ll come back to you in another life” and builds into towering harmonies on “Anteroom” is stunning in its vulnerability, a feat she repeats on “Marked” when her whispered wish “I wish that every time every time he touched me left a mark” leads to a coda that’s as cathartic as it is gentle. Past Life Martyred Saints' emotions are as immediate as they are deep, and that openness is as strong in the album’s fiery moments as its delicate ones. “California”'s stream-of-consciousness rant and cauterizing guitars fall somewhere between Patti Smith and Cat Power, while “Milkman” seethes with distortion as its melody cuts to the quick. These moments just make the calmer songs even more soothing, like the expansive, psych-tinged “Red Star,” where Andersen closes the album with the thought, “I know nothing lasts forever/If you won’t love me, someone else will.” This powerful debut was a long time in the making, but Past Life Martyred Saints will win Andersen new fans as well as thrill longtime ones.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares