EMA goes to the void on her excellent third album

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EMA started writing her darkish however finally hopeful new album, Exile In The Outer Ring, earlier than the presidential election, however it may’t assist however really feel like a response to the Trump period. It even has a music referred to as “Aryan Nation”—“Return house to beneath your station / Like a refugee from the Aryan nation”—however Exile In The Outer Ring’s timeliness stays coincidental. Erika M. Anderson was digging into suburban alienation lengthy earlier than it mobilized on the voting sales space.

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Impressed by what she calls “the outer ring”—“the suburban world of individuals… pushed out of metropolis facilities by stagnating wages and rising expense, pressured up towards rural communities swallowed by sprawl,” per the album’s press supplies—EMA drew upon her childhood in South Dakota and operating with what she calls “scumbag boys.” Their perspective drives Exile In The Outer Ring, from the powerlessness of “Down And Out,” to the cycle of violence and poverty in “Aryan Nation,” to the utter hopelessness of “Always Bleeds,” in which EMA almost coos, “We were born defeated / I do not think that this will ever end.”

Yet that song, buoyed by a skittering guitar line, bright synthesizer, and driving percussion, almost sounds triumphant. Even when Exile In The Outer Ring feels relentlessly bleak—particularly the six-and-a-half-minute “Breathalyzer,” whose washes of distortion and atonal noise are almost suffocating—light still peeks through. In “Receive Love,” a reflexive distrust that has calcified into a barrier against love starts to crack. Singing in a husky whisper over a quietly picked guitar and floating synthesizers, EMA’s lover asks, “Angel, why you always gotta be so tough?”

Still, dread surrounds Exile In The Outer Ring like a thick fog. As much as EMA empathizes with “the kids from the void,” her excellent album offers little comfort besides the gentle urging of “Hey, don’t go away” (“Down And Out”). Maybe that’s all anyone can hope for these days. Eventually, when the fog lifts, Exile In The Outer Ring could stand as one of the artistic triumphs of this dark time.

Purchasing Exile In The Outer Ring via Amazon helps support The A.V. Club.

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