by / August 16th, 2011 /

EMA – Toronto

After surviving the implosion of her previous band Gowns, which she founded with then boyfriend Ezra Buchla, Erika M. Anderson returned to South Dakota and began writing what would become the first EMA album, Past Life Martyred Saints.

The result is a fiercely individual record, and she brings this across onstage, with the raw emotion pouring out into the songs. Crucially, it never feels forced. There isn’t a hint of pretense that her genuinely volatile feelings of loss and rejection are obligatory. There is a conviction to her delivery that suggests that this pain has the power to plummet you to the depths of her soul and drag you down with her.

EMA’s setup consists of her sister on drums and two other band members who play instruments ranging from keyboard to electric violin. This band have only been together for a few months, but the members already have chemistry onstage.

This is made evident right from the beginning of the set, ‘The Grey Ship’, structurally shifts in style several times before ending with a fading solo of whispery vocals from Erika. While on ‘Marked’ and ‘Butterfly Kisses,’ are both emotionally unnerving. The lyrics and imagery are almost overwhelmingly vivid and conveyed with such vulnerability that suggest the scars run deep. It is an intimate experience the audience is involved in with Anderson tonight.

Highlights are the louder numbers with the aid of her delicate voice, guitar and distorting effects. ‘Milkman’ was blistering with its droning vocals. EMA’s hair shrouds her face and her aesthetic was pure grunge era.

The set is a slow burn that never quite exploded. It instead opts to incinerate and you get the feeling you are watching the exorcism of some demons onstage that will help heal some old wounds. The evening ends on a bold acapella rendition of “California” where EMA ditched the guitar and took to the mic, wrapping the cord around her neck like a noose.

EMA as a solo live artist is intense and unrelenting, sad in places, slightly odd and creepy in others, but overall, is a deeply satisfying immersive experience.