Pop & Rock 2011: 30 Best Albums
Back in January few people had ever heard of drone-y doom-folk crew Gowns, but by years' end the defunct Los Angeles duo had gained some serious posthumous notoriety as the creative birthplace of Erika M. Anderson. Past Life Martyred Saints, the South Dakota transplant's debut as EMA, proved to be one of the year's greatest surprises. The record's strength comes from its intimacy, but intimacy doesn't always equal weakness. Opener "The Grey Ship" begins with a sparse acoustic guitar and hushed vocals, pulling listeners in before swaths of overdriven guitars pummelling them into submission. From there, we're putty in Anderson's hands. Past Life finds its legs in "California" where Anderson adopts a Kim Gordon-esque speak-sing that opens with the line," Fuck California, you made me boring," delivering a visceral vocal over top guitar drones and drums the size of the Grand Canyon. Critics have had a hard time pinning Anderson down, given that each song on the record seems to reveal a new influence. "Milkman" offers the closest thing to dance floor groove while "Coda" is a 60-second ode to Appalachian folk. Then there's "Breakfast," whose slow burn reveals a fair bit of time spent listening to classic rock power ballads. Anderson is the through line, singing with a confidence that provides a guiding light through the album's beautiful noise.
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