Is EMA’s latest solo effort worthy of the hype?
South Dakota native Erika M. Anderson first started making ripples in select noise-rock and garage circles in the mid-2000’s as a member of a number of much-loved but ultimately underexposed musical projects (most notably Gowns and, to a lesser extent, Amps for Christ). They fused select elements of folk music instrumentation and songwriting with noise-rock and harsh electronica that resulted in an eerie but candid depiction of twenty-something nothingness, alienation and corrosive love. Anderson’s wispy but intermittently harsh and gripping vocals melded perfectly with the rapturous lo-fi chaos of Gowns’ seminal full-length Red State. It ensnared the hearts and minds of many upon its 2006 release and Erika has subsequently been riding an unfaltering wave of critical acclaim with each release since.
After the official demise of Gowns in 2010, Anderson proceeded to venture forth with her signature brand of abrasive electronica and noise–rock firmly at her side as a solo artist under the newly-crafted, devilishly succinct anonym of EMA. In 2011, she released what has been hailed as one of the defining albums of that year, appearing on many best-of lists. This, her sophomore solo effort, grossly overshadowed her relatively inconspicuous debut Little Sketches in terms of technical finesse and publicity as a result of the tumultuous roar of praise and hype surging from the blogosphere.
Now, however, it’s 2014 and EMA’s return has been soaked in anticipation ever since news of the album’s release date was teased last January with many critics, somewhat prematurely, noting the record down in the margins of their Album of the Year lists far in advance of its release. Such is the pedigree of her discography to date. As tracks began to surface from The Future’s Void, however, a more cohesive image of EMA’s intentions began to take shape, and whilst this is still firmly recognisable within Erika Anderson’s catalogue, there are some notable departures into previously unexplored avenues for the singer. “So Blonde” justifies some of the innumerable comparisons to Courtney Love that have been thrown her way ever since her solo material began, drawing attention with uncharacteristically no-nonsense and stripped down acoustic guitar-based rock beats spearheaded by a raspily unleashed, infectious, hook-heavy chorus that sounds like a better Hole track than Hole have managed to muster for years. “Neuromancer” kicks off side two with an irresistible metallic stomp that stands firmly aside, whilst joyously accompanying, the slower electronically-singed tracks that make up most of the album.
Lyrically, EMA has never shied away from big issues but here she unapologetically transcends the crypticisms of tracks like “So Blonde” and “Cthulu” (in reference to Lovecraft’s infamous short story) to earnestly divulge her concerns regarding the NSA scandal and social media saturation (“Feel like I blew my soul out across the inter-webs and streams” she laments on “3Jane” – a beautiful ballad that succinctly encapsulates her fears and regrets about the digital age). She manages to do so with a fluency that often evades songwriters when it comes to earnest discussions of current events and trends, though Anderson is by no means immune to ham-fisted terminology and imagery in this respect on tracks like “Dead Celebrity,” which treads on heavily-worn ground without much eloquence or freshness. The goofiness of certain lyrics can detract from the tone of the track in question.
Despite these shortcomings, the harsh, abrasive and brave textures created by increasingly distorted and dissonant synths present on almost every track ensure that even the more mundane numbers on this LP merit intrigue, though when Anderson indulges her appetite for chaotic and frenetic soundscapes with layered vocal cuts on top, she really does soar. Even those dubious of the hype circling this release ought to have the dignity to step back and acknowledge the grandeur of this vision and how successfully it has been realised.
Whilst stylistically engaging throughout – a lack of escalation or progression in tracks like “Smoulder” result in a vague sense of tedium upon repeat listening – the tone employed throughout The Future’s Void is admirable in its scale, and the ferocity with which EMA stretches and contorts her style is joyous to behold. It will inevitably leave indie music bloggers begging for more, and EMA is in the unique position in that she holds all the cards dictating her future at this stage after so many successful projects and releases. You can’t help but be excited to see how she plays them.