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EMA - The Future’s Void

As far as worldly outlooks go, this one’s a pretty pessimistic one.

Erika M. Anderson’s low-slung guitar, angered floor-staring and generally ace DIY songwriting allowed the LA singer an unlikely breakthrough back in 2011. ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’, her introverted debut album, was incredibly personal, at times heart-rending, and focused on defected human relationships. Somehow, it caught on. But while it was lines like ‘I wish that every time he touched me left a mark’ which literally left a large impression last time around, political issues and the chaotic present-day take precedence on her second LP proper, ‘The Future’s Void’. As far as worldly outlooks go, this one’s a pretty pessimistic one.

Recorded in Portland and produced by Anderson and Leif Shackelford—creatives with many talents (they also directed the ‘Satellites’ video)—this is the first release via Anderson’s new labels, Matador (in the US) and City Slang (in Europe). Accordingly, the album is an obvious step-up right from the start. Immediately, lead single ‘Satellites’ is bigger, brasher, bolder, catapulting the listener into outer space. An exploration of Big Brother society, a youth imagines life in the former Soviet Bloc, with satellites envisioned as spying eyes in the night-time sky. Industrial NIN-like piano pulses, artificial handclaps and swathes of feedback criss-cross over each other as the musician’s incessant chants of ‘open the satellites’ become more frantic and layered over each other in different tones, not different notes.

The technological intrusion continues on ‘So Blonde’, much more straightforward but equally impressive exposé on the solitude of the modern age. Sonically, the song is so 1995 it hurts: a throwback to post-Nirvana rock ‘n roll with simple guitar strums, mellow verses and screechy chorus yawps. Lyrically, it combines feelings of solitude (‘living underground like I don’t know what I feel […] I was alone in the city / I was alone’) with ironic quips about her role as self-proclaimed ‘meta-grunge rocker’ (‘let me tell you about this girl I know / she’s so blonde / she’ll introduce you to the band’). From then on, the singer mixes softer moments like the piano-led tiptoe of ‘3Jane’, on which blows her soul ‘across the interwebs’ into ‘a million pieces’, and heavier, more cavernous tunes like ‘Smoulder’, whose unprecedented groove slows the tempo down a notch. Progressing at lava-like pace, it’s like we’re standing on the edge of a volcano looking down into the titular void, totally gormless.

There’s a huge sci-fi influence throughout: notably, on the synth-heavy ‘Cthulu’, based on Cthulhu, a fictional cosmic entity created by H.P. Lovecraft in obscure 1920s pulp mag Weird Tales, as well as ‘Neuromancer’, named after the 1984 cyberpunk novel of the same name by William Gibson, referring to the illustrious computer hacker protagonist. On the latter she takes a swipe at ‘selfie’ culture narcissism and our tendency to build up huge online databases of images. ‘It’s basically an AI’, she intones on perhaps the most relevant song here. EMA has a lot of things to say, and we should probably be listening to them.

Tags: EMA, Reviews, Album Reviews

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