Erika M. Anderson performs and records music under her initials as EMA. She grew up in the dive bars and rotten graveyards of South Dakota. Now she lives in Portland, OR and tries to do yoga and eat local but sometimes that shit just don’t work out. She is only occasionally blonde.
When I first came across a profile of Anika a coupla years ago on The Stool Pigeon I remember letting out a silent little internet gasp: “Who is this chick and why does she have my hair?!?” (The oh-so-original bleach-blonde with a fringe — obviously mine, right?) Which does seem like a particularly female response, but I’d like to think that the sentiment is familiar to most artists (Entertainers? Drag queens?) who come across someone who reminds them a little of themselves.
And yes, it’s incredibly silly. But it’s also very human.
Often the reaction is not so much about the actual person but more about the anxiety that the world is going to lump you two together for all of eternity, not because you actually sound similar but because you both have bangs. Or matching skateboards. Or face tattoos. This niche-rival pettiness can cause some DRAMA, and not just with the ladies: Rappers get in club brawls, black metal bands try to kill each other, and everyone gets in Twitter beefs.
However, as an artist, I think the only way to stay happy and engaged long-term is to just knock that shit off. Adopt a policy of empathy over envy. And if someone trips you out for reasons big or small: take a second, acknowledge it, and then throw it away. If another artist’s work makes you feel insecure, double down on your own shit. If someone gets an opportunity you didn’t, make something else happen for yourself. Turn your focus back to yourself and your own work. While a small degree of professional envy is totally natural, it’s also usually counterproductive and just creates bad vibes. If you are truly engaged with what you’re doing, you’re way less likely to be looking over your shoulder at someone else.
Cuz if I would’ve let myself be tripped out and territorial over a stupid haircut, if I would’ve just barked and yapped like a small dog on a leash instead of calmly walking up and sniffing ass like well-adjusted canines do, I would’ve missed out on one of my favorite albums of 2010: Anika.
The premise was simple: deadpan Germanic female vox over members of BEAK> and Portishead playing dubstyle covers of semi-obscure pop songs — an idea so good it almost felt like cheating! (But here’s another thing: THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS CHEATING IN ROCK & ROLL. By definition, new and innovative music has no rules, and it’s great to have records that come along and remind us of that.) The result is an intriguing combination of the alien and the familiar, forcing well-known melodies into an uncanny valley and coming out on just-this-side of winning instead of pure creep.
Also, the recording techniques used here are really evocative. Like, you know since it’s BEAK> that they’re probably using a real vintage Space Echo and a rare old analog drum machine, but it’s also fun to pretend that they’re just running everything through a solid-state Fender practice amp in some dank English basement. Or to imagine that they recorded it all in three days instead of 12. Or even that these songs were miraculously unearthed from the smolder after Lee Scratch Perry burned down the Black Ark.
I recently came across an interview of Anika trying to explain to the Ford Models Blog that the record is intentionally lo-fi and raw and that they wanted to do it quickly in order to preserve the mistakes, not correct them, because mistakes in art are the best part. Yes, there is some irony in explaining the beauty of imperfections on a modeling website. (Although they probably would’ve totally gotten my territorial hair thing!) But to her credit Anika is patient and gracious about it. Her other gig, after all, is political journalism, so she’s probably used to breaking it all down for the confused masses.
She is also a perfect modern dub singer, nonchalant without the sun. Some reviewers have attributed this to the journalism, as if it’s given her some sort of detachment. I think she’s just a natural.
My only beef with this EP is half the songs on it also appeared on the LP, albeit slightly remixed. And they even have the same name — Anika the EP, by Anika, and Anika the LP, by Anika. Of the three new songs, the straightforward take on the Chromatics’ “In the City” is my fave. The other two, Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz” and the Crystals’ 1962 girl-group classic “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” are also great but kind of overshadowed in my mind by their previous cover incarnations by fellow blondies Kurt and Courtney, respectively. And “He Hit Me” kinda bums me out now in a post-Rihanna way. But I’m hoping that the repeat of so much material means this EP is just a wake-up call for those who slept on the album, and that we’ll get another brand-new full-length soon. I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Until then, call me, babe! I’ll buy you a beer and we can touch up our roots.