Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Music

Radical honesty: EMA’s The Future’s Void

by Chad Parkhill , April 23, 2014Leave a comment

Erica M. Anderson’s recently released second solo album, The Future’s Void, has been for the most part well-received by critics – albeit with some caveats. Most have praised the way she has maintained her songwriting identity despite shifting from the folk/blues/noise rock of her debut, Past Life Martyred Saints, to a 90s-influenced mélange of post-grunge and industrial pop (à la Nine Inch Nails). The bone of contention seems to be that The Future’s Void is understood as tackling a Big Theme – namely, our relationship to internet technologies – and is therefore pushing a Message, in contrast to the supposedly message-less Past Life Martyred Saints.

Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson set the tone for the album’s reception by chiding her for the directness of her lyrics: ‘There are lines like “when you click on the link” and “makin a living off of takin selfies” and “feel like I blew my soul out across the interwebs and streams,” and it’s hard not to cringe just a little, because they seem so on-the-nose.’ For Consequence of Sound’s Sasha Geffen, ‘Writing a piece of music with a thesis in mind can be dangerous … at its weakest moments, The Future’s Void gets talky, clunky, and overly reliant on external sources.’

These reviews seem to make two assumptions about EMA’s work that might not be borne out by a close analysis. Firstly, that Past Life Martyred Saints is ‘confessional’, and secondly, that The Future’s Void is, by contrast, aiming to be an Important Album that speaks about Big Issues. While there is little doubt that Past Life Martyred Saints is based on the details of Anderson’s own life story – growing up in a midwestern ‘red state’, the angst of being alienated from all of the guns and bibles, the disappointment of discovering that life in cosmopolitan California is its own kind of purgatory – the aim of her music is not only confessional, but also to connect to her audience. Or, as she put it in a recent interview with the Quietus, ‘I just try and think of someone who might need to hear what I am saying. I will try and tell my story and perhaps someone will feel less ashamed to have similar feelings.’ Such a sentiment might explain why so much of Past Life Martyred Saints oscillates between Anderson’s first person narration and a second person to whom many of the songs are addressed: it’s not just about her, it’s about all of us.

In this light, The Future’s Void’s lyrical focus on the corrosive effects of technology isn’t a sudden shift from the confessional to Big Picture themes; rather, it’s an acknowledgement of how much digital technologies have become part of the fabric of our lives. There’s something weirdly schoolmarm-ish about music critics – all writing for online-only outlets, no less – upbraiding Anderson for using ‘interwebs’ in a song, as though the word has never escaped their lips in everyday conversation.

By the same token, when Anderson does say something like ‘Makin a living off of takin selfies’, it doesn’t come off as an awkward attempt at topicality because the line, in context, is not about narcissism but rather about every individual’s accommodations with and resistance to power: ‘I know the way they pray and they blame / it’s been the same for ages and ages and ages.’ The subject here is explicitly not some kind of techno-dystopian vision of digital narcissism but rather a more nuanced take on how digital technologies enable some terrible tendencies that have been with our species for a long time.

The more I listen to Anderson’s music, the more I’m struck by the fact that she’s not looking to confess – a process which, as Michel Foucault argues in his History of Sexuality, creates the subject and blinds them to the power structures that encourage confession. Rather, she’s attempting something far more difficult: a kind of radical honesty, a fidelity to a core emotional truth without necessarily spilling her guts about the small details. Or, as she puts it on The Future’s Void’s ‘3Jane’, ‘I don’t want to sell you anything / I don’t want to put myself out / and turn it into a refrain / it’s all just a big advertising campaign.’

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Australian, Killings, The Lifted BrowMeanjin, and The Quietus, amongst others.

ACO logo




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

5114f311-dd9c-442a-b8c8-b73183e80da3-460x276

Veronica Sullivan

Sympathy for the devil: Helen Garner on This House of Grief

Helen Garner’s desire to identify and dissect the worst of human nature has always provoked passionate debate and, often, criticism. This same urge drives her new book, This House of Grief. Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

  At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen, and the loop continues until nobody … Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »