In the song “California,” Erika M. Anderson sings, “Fuck California, you made me boring.” It’s the lament of a Midwesterner who moved out West and did too much living, too fast and too young. Now she’s back home and trying to figure out if she can live without all that excitement, even though it almost killed her. It’s more than a little self-indulgent, but it’s also part of a long tradition of rock songwriting. At one point Anderson apologizes to a couple of ex-friends by name, at another she paraphrases Bo Diddley. (“I’m just 22, I don’t mind dying.”)
Past Life Martyred Saints, Anderson’s debut release as EMA, is full of songs like this: tales of bad drugs and lethal romance. (Check out the one where she sings, “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark.”) Anderson lived for a time in Oakland and played in a couple of noisy bands, Amps for Christ and Gowns, before a bad breakup sent her back to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She went home thinking she’d given up music, but it didn’t take long before she started writing the songs that she would perform as EMA. Anderson set them all to squealing guitar feedback, distorted organ, booming drums, and her own wounded but strangely pretty voice.
Past Life is produced with lots of reverb and slightly distorted vocals, so that even the sparse, slow “Anteroom” and the a cappella “Coda” sound almost as ominous as a stomper such as “Milkman.” Better yet are the songs like “The Grey Ship,” which starts off slow and sparse and builds up guitars, drums, and keyboards until it’s an overwhelming force.
EMA: The Casbah, Friday, October 14, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $10.