Gig review: EMA at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

'I wish I had more sweet love songs to sing for you,' bemoans Erika M. Anderson. 'People say I'd sell a lot more records if I did.'

EMA. Picture: Alicia Gordon
EMA. Picture: Alicia Gordon

The comment says more about the South Dakotan’s inherently dark view on relationships than it does about her desire for commercial gain given that she’s just finished singing ‘Marked’. A downcast track that builds around a droning synth and plucked violin, her cracked voice carries a disconcerting defiance when she confesses, “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark.”

The use of physically violent imagery to shock and provoke is consistent with the rest of her set, which takes on the rhetoric of middle America with ‘I Wanna Destroy’ and ’33 Nihilistic And Female’. The arrangements are as confrontational as the titles suggest, crackling with vocal distortion and densely layered synth parts like Curve having a nightmare about Lykke Li.

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Dense with the claustrophobia of alienation, her songs nonetheless have internal dynamics that means she doesn’t need to rely on volume alone to communicate rage. New track ‘Teenage Deformity’, performed solo on guitar, sits within the Tom Petty school of classic American song writing. The electro-goth ‘Fire Water Air LSD’, meanwhile, pulls back so that Anderson can perform a spoken word section.

These more restrained moments allow her to powerfully connect with the audience, beckoning fans to come forward and grasping their hands on ‘California’. Tapping into her inner Patti Smith, the track questions what it’s like to be ‘small-town and gay’ before she sees Mary and Joseph carrying a gun.

It offers no solutions to the problems she details but, as with the rest of her material, it does give voice to the angst and confusion of those who have been exiled in the outer ring of life.