“When you see that ship it is the ship you can see/ From the great white north it is calling for me/ I thought it would come/ I thought it would come from further north than that.” Thus begins the most emotionally devastating musical album I have ever heard, EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints, staring at death and realizing it is coming faster than we would ever want it to. This a “concept” album about loneliness and isolation that oddly starts out looking at death and ends up finding life.
Over at Album Oriented, a blog that I greatly enjoy and one that gave me the inspiration to try this one out, there was a recent post about the silly idea of concept albums. It is about how most albums (and pretty much all great albums) are connected by a theme, whether it is intentional or not. This album is a wonderful example of that. I have never seen a stated intention of a unified idea pervading this album, but there is certainly an overarching theme that is shared by all of the tracks, which generally makes for a better “concept” album anyways.
Everything about this album is meant to convey isolation and uncertainty. The music mostly sounds like it was recorded from the opposite end of an empty music hall. It echoes and reverberates through the unoccupied space. There are a lot of vocal harmonies done by the artist, Erika M. Anderson, but instead of creating depth it just creates loneliness; no one else is here to sing with me so I have to sing along with myself.
On the track ‘Anteroom’ EMA starts out whispering and then grows in confidence “If this time through we don’t get it right, we’ll come back to you in another life.” While the theology of this statement is misguided the impact is nevertheless felt all the same. I think we all feel like we could use another try at life at one time or another. We move on into drug addiction (“These drugs they are making me so sad but I can’t stop taking them”) and possible relationship abuse (“I wish that every time he touched me left a mark”). All of these struggles are presented in a way so that we feel empathy with the artist, not disdain for her.
There is also a theme of rejection that shows up repeatedly throughout the album. I think the artist feels very confused when she is rejected because she tries to be accepting of everyone, which is evident by the cast of characters that inhabit this album that she is sympathetic with: gays, suicidal goths, small town friends from back home.
When the last song, ‘Red Star,’ begins you are wondering when something might finally go right for EMA. Thankfully by the end she has at least found a glimmer of hope. She has dealt with a lot of her insecurities and decided that the people who do not accept her as she is, with all of her faults, who don’t accept her the way she accepts others, might not be the people she cares about being accepted by (“I know nothing last forever. If you don’t love me someone will”).