EMA - ‘Mouth Like The Sun’ (Red Star) from Little Sketches on Tape (2010)
I figured this would be the best way to finish off PLMS, with this tape-recorded, acoustic version of Past Life Martyred Saints’ final track. I don’t really have much to say about either ‘Breakfast’ or ‘Butterfly Knife’ - good songs as they certainly are, to me they largely repeat the pattern of ‘Anteroom’ and ‘Milkman’: a slowcore ballad and a camp rocker. And yes, that last part applies to ‘Butterfly Knife’ too - come on, it’s practically operatic - even in her own words, as from this interview:
“Do you think it’s accurate to describe that album as “dark,” the way a lot of people are doing?
I don’t know…there’s also a sense of humor in the record that I think people don’t get or a sense of over-drama or tongue-in-cheek-ness that I think gets lost on people. Like in a song like “Butterfly Knife,” there’s an element of camp there that I think people don’t get.”
There’s also this excellent stripped-back recording for Pitchfork TV which makes it in to something quite different from what’s on the album; conversely, I don’t know what’s out there about ‘Breakfast’, nor do I have a clue what it might be about, but I do know that in its simplicity - “you feel just like a breeze to me” - it is perhaps one of the most beautiful songs on the album.
‘Red Star’ is an epic closer: if not by the standards of the 17-minute ‘Kind Heart’, which is possibly the very best EMA song of all despite being a cover and not on the album; but significantly more spaced-out - figuratively and literally - than the rest of the record’s nine tracks. I wrote about it at length before, in what was my most serious attempt to untangle the genealogy of the EMA sound and extract some sort of lasting meaning from her lyrics. This earlier version omits the explication - “Got a strange fascination/I been holding on the one/For that straight revelation/I been holding on for too long” - in favour of the imagery - eyes of green, mouth like the sun, red star, a bruised scar - and a final line that is too garbled and twisted for me to make out. The two tracks sound almost nothing alike - lo-fi and hi-fi, one abruptly stopping and starting with mechanical roughness, the other gently layering together a structure of tone and melody, and where one runs into the ground the other soars into the ether - yet they are recognisably one and the same.