Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

EMA pushes back against Internet culture run amok

Illustration for article titled EMA pushes back against Internet culture run amok

On her second album as EMA, Erika M. Anderson makes an impassioned case against oversharing. That may seem like an odd reversal for a singer-songwriter who trafficked in confessionals, real or perceived, on 2011’s Past Life Martyred Saints, an album that volunteered the story behind every scar on its wrists, but Anderson is hardly the first musician to pull back after experiencing the blowback of the spotlight. Twenty years after one of Anderson’s muses, Kurt Cobain, lambasted a public that wouldn’t leave him alone, the self-appointed judges he warned about have a whole arsenal of new tools for disseminating their criticisms online. As Anderson tells it, the online response to Martyred Saints left her feeling exposed, so she retreated from the Internet while recording The Future’s Void. The resulting songs are meditations on the impossibility of privacy in the modern age.

Even for an album conceived to be less personal than its predecessor, Future’s Void is still unmistakably about one woman’s beliefs, experiences, and anxieties. “I don’t want to put myself out and turn it into a refrain,” Anderson sings on “3Jane” even as she does just that, repeating the word “refrain.” That she’s in on the joke doesn’t make the joke any less cruel: Performing music has always meant broadcasting yourself, and that’s truer than ever in 2014. Anderson’s unease is echoed by her shivery voice and her ever more turbulent music, which has fermented into something heavier and harsher than Martyred Saints. “Satellites” opens the record with a gust of maximalist, David Bowie-esque art rock, while a nervy mid-album stretch running from “Cthulu” to “Neuromancer” conjures the vicious industrial squall of Gary Numan.

Even when Anderson cuts loose on the grunge-pop throwback “So Blonde,” she does so with a keen awareness of cultural stereotypes and gender expectations. “Let me tell you about this girl I know / She’s so blonde,” she sings, as if that one detail could convey everything one might need to know about her subject. Like her ’90s alt-rock predecessors—some of which she now shares a home with on her new label Matador—Anderson cloaks raw emotions and loaded commentary in a sardonic package, but her sometimes blasé disposition shouldn’t be mistaken for detachment. For an album born of such hermetic origins, The Future’s Void resonates with deep concern over the state of the world.

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