The Future's Void

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EMA's debut album, Past Life Martyred Saints, was so furious, so gentle, and so genuine that it probably couldn't be repeated. Wisely, Erika M. Anderson doesn't try to on The Future's Void. Instead, she moves her focus outward, exploring the possibilities, and dangers, of a constantly online world and its impact on a person's sense of self. While it's not the expected next step from an artist who seemed so soul-bearing, it's not completely unrelated: Anderson is still committed to examining identity, and The Future's Void allows her to embody multiple selves -- or feel disconnected from them. Like Past Life Martyred Saints, The Future's Void opens with a powerful manifesto. "Satellites," depicts a world where "They put a man into space/And we go there each night alone in the waste" over fraying electronics and sawing strings grounded by industrial beats, setting the stage for an album that explores how dehumanizing the virtual world can be. It's no coincidence that Anderson sports an Oculus Rift headset on the album's cover; it acts as a mask and a window, hiding her eyes while opening a different world in front of them. This concealing and revealing extends to The Future's Void's highly crafted feel. Wordplay abounds, starting with the album's title, which expresses the duality of seizing the moment in the face of an uncertain future, or facing down an upcoming emptiness. Similarly, EMA doesn't just rely on electronics to convey future shock; she sets her unsettling imagery to sounds that span pretty acoustic pop ("When She Comes") and stark piano balladry ("100 Years"). She even makes Linda Perry's bombastic L.A. rock sound cool with "So Blonde," a brilliant homage/parody that is the album's poppiest, and most ironic, moment. The line between satire and genuine emotion is even finer on "Dead Celebrity," where Anderson sings the seemingly heartfelt sentiment "We wanted something timeless in this world so full of speed" to a melody that sounds like an alternate version of "Taps." EMA explores the personal impact of this evolving culture as well as critiquing it, and the album's best moments translate her debut's unbridled emotions to cyberspace's discontents and disconnects. "Smoulder," which sounds like a collaboration between mid-'90s Nine Inch Nails and PJ Harvey, takes EMA's catharsis to a new level. "Neuromancer" -- one of several nods to William Gibson's pioneering cyberpunk novel -- marries a dark, ritualistic beat to the refrain "It knows more than you do about the things that you do," sounding alternately like a warning and an incantation. "Solace" may be one of the album's most effective and affecting blends of real and virtual: as it comes to a close, a seemingly endless choir of EMA clones sings "Beg/Pray" with ever-increasing intensity. The Future's Void's often dazzling vignettes aren't quite as striking as Anderson's debut, but they show she's an artist unconfined by any one sound or perspective, and more than capable of engaging minds as well as hearts.

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