You never really know where you'll end up once you begin listening to EMA's Past Life Martyred Saints. Her opening track "Gray Ships", strolls along with a lounge-luster vibe that slides into alternative rock, eventually settling somewhere in between the two. The 9-track album that follows is a constant lo-fi fusion of over-driven guitars, dissonance, distorted vocals, synthesizers, and drum machines that will keep you guessing where you're going. The best part about Past Life Martyred Saints is that you're liable to guess wrong every time—it consistently dodges expectations by miles.
The medley of music-styles EMA embeds in Past Life Martyred Saints will leave you grasping at straws in pinpointing her influences. Likeness in her sound can range from possessing the energy and harmony of Sleigh Bells, to the hoarseness of Kimya Dawson, to the subtle freak-folk sounds of Coco-Rosie. All the while each song has grittier recording quality than a Brooklyn house-party on tape. At certain points in the album, EMA even slips into that Animal Collective rawness with catchy loops and primal chanting. Musically, the best example of this is in the shortest track on the album, "Coda", with its harmonies and sticky melodies. Lyrically, this resonates most prominently in "Breakfast": "Mama's in the bedroom, don't you stop." But these similarities are in no way a reflection of unoriginality. If anything, they're a reflection of the fact that this album builds over what came before it to create something entirely new. The influences you hear are like old mantle-pieces adorning a brand new room. The inherent control EMA seems to possess over her sound renders her music with an unidentifiable hue of dark pop that seems perfectly out of place with everything that came before it.
EMA has a knack for hammering out the heavy guitar riffs and unloading the dissonance at all the right moments to completely rearrange a riff or chord progression, eliminating the possibly of a dull moment. There are a few places on the album where sound space becomes slightly cluttered, but it's not a recurring problem, and it's never anymore brain-bending than some of the songs off of Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion. Unlike AnCo, EMA has a layer of graininess to her sound that blankets the entire album with a warm authenticity. While its easy to attribute this factor as an expected byproduct of her lo-fi feel, the element contributes to her sound, and makes the overall listening experience much more intimate.
It's no gimmick. Even if the recording is lo-fi, which is never a bad thing, there is nothing low about the underlying quality of music EMA is pumping out. Simply put, Past Life Martyred Saints kills it.