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‘The Future’s Void,’ But EMA Has Some Answers on Her Acerbic Sophomore Album

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: April 08, 2014
Label: Matador

Despite Erika M. Anderson having some harsh words for millennials and sporting a cautious attitude toward the all-encompassing terror brought on by the Internet, The Future’s Void isn’t anti-technology (you don’t scoop up Tumblr artist Molly Soda for your music video if you don’t have some sincere stock in this stuff). Nor is it all that condescending (though “Neuromancer,” which sounds like Kate Bush covering NIN’s Hesitation Marks and takes aim at selfie-takers, is like your cool older sister lecturing you and suddenly seeming not that cool anymore). Mostly, this byzantine follow-up to 2011’s splenetic Past Life Martyred Saints is just reasonably bleak, reminding us that we’re all in this inescapable knot of information and surveillance together, like one big happy family being spied on, exploited, and data-mined.

“Cthulu” captures that no-privacy rage by way of a terrified vocal and relentless electronic pounding, getting to where Kanye West’s void-staring posse cut “Mercy” probably thought it was going. “Satellite” is frayed-wire electro-pop (complete with hand claps!), peaking with Anderson letting out some late-era Scott Walker-esque howls as swinging strings jab at her quick Cold War history lesson, modestly reminding you how and when all this spying on your own freaking people stuff got started.

If all this po-faced didacticism sticks in your craw, recall that Martyred Saints wasn’t exactly a subtle record and was all the better for it. And so switching out blunt confessionals for an occasionally ham-fisted, though almost entirely on-point, critique of 2014 concerns makes a lot of sense, even if it isn’t exactly “cool.” On “3Jane” (named after a character from William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer), EMA croons, “Feel like I blew my soul out across the Interwebs and streams/ It was a million pieces of silver, I watched them gleam,” which is like 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Dave Bowman gasping, “My God, it’s full of stars,” without any of the wonder that realization contained. Here, it’s just overwhelming dread. Ditto to “Neuromancer”‘s music too, which explodes and simmers down and explodes over and over again, like an echo-filled supercut of post-rock crescendos.

And yes, Anderson called it “the Interwebs,” which seems like a hint that maybe you shouldn’t take this record entirely at face value, since EMA herself seems to be laughing into the digital void a little bit. Bypassing self-congratulatory, surface-skimming grump-outs about stupid-ass #selfies and those doggone #milennials, EMA has crafted a wide-eyed, open-eared, reasonably horrified, digi-noise drone-folk treatise about the soul-sucking, privacy-wrecking qualities of online life.