You’ve got to have a lot of guts to call the lead single of your latest album ‘Aryan Nation,’ but then again Erika M. Anderson, better known as EMA, has never really been one to shy away from some tough issues. On her last album ‘The Future’s Void,’ she took a long hard look at the nature of surveillance and the perils that can come with navigating an increasingly logged-on society. Now, after a full year where the headlines seemed dominated by overt or veiled racism and misogyny, on new record ‘Exile In The Outer Ring’ she’s taking her own look at the resentment that seeps from modern Middle America, with an attempt to render it in a more empathic way.
So back to that title. ‘Aryan Nation’ isn’t really specifically about a certain subsection of Middle America that are deemed racist. It was actually initially inspired by Shane Meadows’ film ‘This Is England.’ Meadows’ depiction of skinhead culture stirred something in Erika. She recognised a similarity between the way in which the non-violent skinheads were radicalised by a single figure and a sense of hopelessness and confusion in America. And so, the track is more about the set of conditions that cause particular inclinations to arise. Even the first line, “go back home to below your station,” speaks both of the grinding poverty some Americans have to live with as well as the perception of some Americans being “white trash.” Erika sings about habitual drug use being a “family tradition,” with a revolving door prison system (“are we out on bail or just a week’s vacation?”) and where bringing more children into seemingly inescapable conditions is just continuing a “cycle that’s vicious.” In the end, “you can deal but you can’t ever win.”
It’s a damning portrait of abandonment and alienation made all the more powerful by the fact it wasn’t written this year, or in 2016, but three years ago. That simply heightening the sense that the vitriol and spite channelled and exploited by the likes of Trump has been bubbling under for some time. But even though the means might not justify the ends, EMA has made a powerful, thought-provoking return.