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EMA – “Down and Out”

EMA’s “Down and Out,” a new song premiered on Stereogum today, bears a lyrical resemblance to the 1923 standard of almost the same name, first made famous by Bessie Smith. “Everyone thinks you’re worthless when you’re down and out / No one will scratch the surface when you’re down,” the songwriter born Erika M. Anderson sings at the song’s opening. Her voice is hushed and double-tracked, in an arrangement led by drum machines and quiet power chords; it’s sounds a bit like Elliott Smith got lost in an industrial park.

In the bluesy original, it’s not that everyone thinks you’re worthless when you’re down and out, it’s that they don’t care enough to think of you at all. Still, the message of the two songs is essentially the same: one minute you’re up, the next you’re down, and when you’re down all your friends disappear. It’s tempting to connect the lyrics to EMA’s recent history: after releasing her acclaimed second album The Future’s Void on Matador, she was dropped from the storied label. She said it was because her new music was “too political” and “not exactly mainstream”; the label responded with a statement alleging that she was never discouraged from making political or experimental music. Whatever the real story, Exile In The Outer Ring, her third solo album, will be released 8/25 via City Slang.

Hear “Down and Out” below.

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