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The future is fireworks for experimental EMA

The Future’s Void is more pop than EMA’s previous album.

Leif Shackelford

3 out of 4 stars

The Future’s Void

'Who can blame the world and me, cuz we wanted something timeless in this world so full of speed." The tenth of 10 new songs from Erika M. Anderson (whose initials form EMA) is Dead Celebrity, a dirge of mixed vintage that melodically borrows from the solemn Taps and the faux-tragic folk ballad Oh My Darling, Clementine. Anderson plays both sides, as she wonders what we are looking for when we mouse-click on the link of a departed star.

The song includes the timeless sounds of fireworks– illuminating the sky as they pop, always at the end of the day. Dying glory, then, a fitting conclusion to Anderson's noisy, artful and slow-moving transmissions about modern, instant and insistent communications.

Anderson has an experimental and underground past, including a partnership in the psyche-folk duo Gowns, which preceded her critically favoured 2011 solo debut, Past Life Martyred Saints. That sonically adventurous album showcased a starkly emotional singer and songwriter.

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This disc, The Future's Void (out April 8), is a little more pop-orientated, with tunes and folk-blues found in the scuffed-up soundscape. Influences include the industrialists Nine Inch Nails, the riot grrl CCT movement and a William Gibson sci-fi novel. Anderson considers satellites and the future as envisioned from the past. Her voice is raw or wailing here, pretty or fragile there.

I see her as a ballerina in rags.

The grimy, breathy and clapping opening track Satellites suggests a weakness for David Bowieon Anderson's part. Or at least the Bowie of 2020 we might have imagined in 1988. On it, Anderson almost applauds the Cold War, for it did put men (and Ziggy) into space.

On the gloomy Solace, we might hear "soulless" instead. Anderson isn't sure which it is, either. She's more certain when alternately chanting "beg" and "pray," because they're essentially the same thing.

3Jane is a minor-key beauty about the superhighway, surveillance and "interwebs and streams." The Internet never rests. The lights and cameras are always on. Disassociation ("a modern disease") is the vulnerable Anderson's unplugging and drawing of the blinds.

In a blog posting, Anderson wrote about disassociation as a reaction to the vigilant Internet grid. As a postscript, she apologized because she wanted the missive to be perfect, but real life had interfered. "So that's why this post is a little raw," she wrote, "and I think I'm okay with that."

Raw, not perfect, then. I'm okay with that as well.

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EMA plays Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, May 5; Montreal's Il Motore, May 6.

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