“Not too long we’re in this world,
So what’d you even come here for?”
On her sophomore album, EMA returns as an oracle from beyond the apocalypse of popular music. Her excellent debut Past Life Martyred Saints (2011) was hardly muzak; moody, fuzz-drenched compositions describe a rebellious and destructive upbringing in South Dakota: “You were the goth in high school, you cut and fucked your arms up.” While PLMS addressed personal relationships and places, her recent release The Future’s Void looks to the corrosion of human interaction in our digital age, in a much more stylized and abrasive instrumentation.
A bouquet of disfigured pop songs, Erika M. Anderson’s compositions explore the space where melody disintegrates into ash, dissonance and noise. The album runs against the edge of being cohesive, stopping a breath short of stylistic entropy. The Future’s Void’s first three songs function as an operatic overture, containing a blueprint of where the rest of the album will take us. The first track, “Satellites,” begins with bursts of white noise, layered to form a pulsating rhythm, over which her strong voice bellows. Here we are introduced to her token form of industrial-rock-folk-requiems. Some tracks contain all elements, while others fall on one extreme of the spectrum; “Cthulu” sounds like Patti Smith fronting Nine Inch Nails, while “3Jane” evokes Cat Power produced by Phil Spector in 1963.
The second track, “So Blonde,” welcomes us with a drumbeat and swirling 90’s alt rock guitars strongly reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye.” In the phenomenally catchy chorus, she switches back and forth between bellowing “So let me tell you ’bout this boy I know (He’s so blonde!)” and “So let me tell you ’bout this girl I know (She’s so blonde!),” in an homage to a certain notorious 90’s rock couple. The third track, “3Jane,” is an ethereal, angelic anthem. Her voice dances on its register’s tip-toes, while piano chords plod over a shogaze waltz and she turns phrases around and around in an orgasmic reverie. In the span of three songs we’ve gone from twitchingly irritating bursts of sonic dust to overwhelming ballads of gauzy, melodic ecstasy, and we’re only getting started.
The mid-section of the album leads us into an industrial dystopia. Distorted, reggaeton drum beats score EMA howling about “Makin a living off of takin’ selfies.” Ever in control, the album is arranged as a superior flirtation with the listener. Just as we are lead into murky depths, we are resuscitated with soft sentimental folk songs. After enduring three alluring yet grating tracks, we are brought back with “When She Comes,” a lyrically acerbic track of violence delivered as a gorgeous acoustic lullaby. Arguably the crux of the album, we are brought out of the polemical cyber diatribe into a glimmer of redemption.
The final song, “Dead Celebrity,” is a sparse, farewell song. A haunting repetitive organ and sampling of fireworks erupting lends it a patriotic air, eliciting the sort of summer camp melancholy one feels when they hear “Taps” on a bugle. EMA sings about the twisted, universal compulsion of obsessively reading about celebrity deaths on the internet, with empathy towards the viewer’s misguided search for emotional connection: “Who can judge us, who can love us, who can blame the world in me? Cause we wanted something timeless in this world so full of speed.”
At the heart of the album is an inquiry into how the self develops, shifts and survives in the age of the web. While discourse around the ugly pervasiveness of the internet is ubiquitous, somehow EMA’s compositions remain refreshing and evocative. She doesn’t advocate for abstaining from the information superhighway, nor does she regard its participants as pariahs. Rather, the internet functions as the landscape, rather than the subject, of her existential musings. What is the future void? According to EMA, a place of alienating dissonance, punctuated with swaths of beauty. In other words, a place not unlike the present.
The Future’s Void is out now on Matador Records. Get it here.