Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
South Dakota has the Badlands and Deadwood. It's got a history rich with bad ass outlaws and the kind of tumbleweed mentality that allowed a person to blow into town, cause a stink and then blow right back out of town, leaving whatever mess they wanted in their wake. We could think about adding coyote state native Erika M. Anderson, or EMA, to that list of bad asses, though her specialty is in the careful chronicling of the messes that were left behind in any wakes - the different forms that the bodies, those used by other, those overpowered by their own inner demons take when they've been exhausted and diminished. It seems likely that much of the scary brilliance of her dark lyrics is autobiographical, but a song about a gothic cutter from high school seems to be a story that she saw first-hand, but didn't experience personally. It's almost as if she takes on the role of a Matthew Brady-type, applying a very durable, but simple method in looking at the painful ways of these lost people. She gives their hurt color and yet she doesn't alter the hurt at all. It's there and it will remain there and even if it can be changed or displaced some, there's nothing to suggest that the pain and hurt itself needn't be validated or allowed to live on. They are those pages from a life that produce cringes, if they're outlived, or are pointed at as the beginning of the end, or where things began to spiral and get rough. They are the changers, those things that ultimately shape us. It's the insecurities that we never lose and the problems that get their burrs in us and never unstick themselves. The songs on EMA's debut album are resigned to the idea that we might all be the walking wounded in some way and that a lot of our time, many of our years are corrupted by one thing or another. There's no helping it and sometimes there's no helping us. She sings, at one point that, "Only God can make it right," and the line comes off not as a religious statement, but more as one that would suggest that we just get over it, that there's very little that can be done when it's just us down here, hacking around, thinking that we can deceive the natural progression of things. Most of the time, it makes no difference anyway as there are just different shades of gray, different cuts of the deck to deal with, all of which will give you the same hands in a roundabout way. They are the scars that you run your fingers over and remember when it originally felt like. Anderson seems to have a vivid memory for those initial wounds and she anticipates the next ones. She sings, "What does failure taste like/To me it tastes like dirt/I'm begging you to please look away," and you feel like there's no way that you're going to advert your eyes or tune the moans or the cries out. You're listening, maybe so you can help, or maybe so you can just hear it.