In 2011, you can find a lot of terrible music at the intersection of indie rock, detached hip-hop patois, and gleeful art-noise. EMA, aka Erika M. Anderson of the defunct noise-folk band Gowns, inhabits a similar headspace, but few recent albums sound as vital as her Past Life Martyred Saints. Maybe that’s because it’s stylish but not posed, and often downright unhinged. “Fuck California, you made me boring,” she spits at the top of her best song, “California,” hovering above a smear of synthy feedback and trebly thunderclaps. Some songs are compositionally adventurous: “The Grey Ship,” a seven-minute suite, builds from hissy folk crawl to snaky spiritual to prog-rock maelstrom and back. The words, meanwhile, balance violent and religious imagery with disarming, straightforward turns. “When you showed up at the top,” EMA sings in a pretty wisp toward the end of “Marked,” “I almost threw up on the spot.” The overriding aesthetic is controlled chaos—abrasive, broken-keyboard art pop and confessional, just-tempered lyrics crammed into a pliable form. If it was scarier, it’d border on witch house. Any tighter and more melodic, and it’d be scrunk.
EMA performs with CSS and MEN at 7 p.m. at 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $25. (202) 265-0930.