2014 columns, Music

Radical honesty: EMA’s The Future’s Void

by Chad Parkhill , April 23, 20141 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


Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their September picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »


Chris Somerville

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Chris Somerville defends Heat and Light

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Author Chris Somerville spoke in praise of Ellen van Neerven’s debut work of fiction, Heat and Light. Read more »


Elizabeth Flux

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Elizabeth Flux defends In the Quiet

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Writer and Voiceworks editor Elizabeth Flux spoke in praise of Eliza Henry-Jones’ debut novel, In the Quiet. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Girl Gang: The value of female friendship

For two years I was the only girl in my class, along with four boys. Perhaps this would have been some kind of fantastic Lynx-filled utopia for a boy-crazy pre-teen girl, but for someone who was just beginning to figure out that she didn’t like boys in the same way other girls seemed to, it wasn’t what you could call ideal. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Written On the Body: Fat women and public shaming

The policing and subsequent shaming of women’s bodies is not unique to famous women. It happens to all women. Feeling entitled to denigrate fat bodies, and fat women’s bodies in particular, is one of the last bastions of socially acceptable discrimination. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »


Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Straight White Men - Public Theatre - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Jane Howard

Unbearable Whiteness: Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men

Though I am delighted to see Young Jean Lee gain traction in Australia, a work by playwright who is a woman of colour should not be such a rare occurrence; nor should this only come in the form of a play that blends effortlessly into the fabric of the work that is programmed around it. Read more »


Jane Howard

Putting Words In People’s Mouths: Performing the unseen, speaking the unknown

‘Do you ever get the feeling someone is putting words in your mouth?’ A performer asks an audience member in the front row. ‘Say yes.’
‘Yes,’ comes the reply.
This theme ran through multiple shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year, where occasionally audience members, but more often performers, were asked to perform scripts sight unseen. Read more »


Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »