"THE LAST RECORD was pretty critically acclaimed across the board," says Erika M. Anderson. "Because I had already experienced that, I felt like it was okay to take more risks."
Anderson—a former member of noise-folk project Gowns and the experimental band Amps for Christ—is better known as EMA, and she was propelled out of the underground when Past Life Martyred Saints, her 2011 debut under that name, became a surprise success. The risks to which she refers are on EMA's thematically ambitious new album, The Future's Void, which tackles the potential fate of humanity in the digital age. Anderson says the theme "just came out. I actually fought against it being thematic... I knew the subject matter would be polarizing for some people, and it has been. But I wanted to contribute to a dialogue."
On the album, Anderson takes on social media, public image, government surveillance, artificial intelligence, and the changing face of what connection means. It's a serious examination that asks listeners to check their own reliance, but the record is also well aware that being so serious is inherently a little humorous.
Anderson has always operated as a musician who responds to what she hears, and rather than try to directly copy it, she uses it as a trope to play within. On The Future's Void, the results are better than ever, with most of its songs lining up expectations and then knocking them down. She sets the album's most straight-ahead pop song in a place of "psilocybin nightmares"; she lightheartedly turns the word "refrain" into a literal refrain about the album's thematic centerpiece; and she ends with a faux-patriotic "Taps"-like send-off about when celebrities die in the digital age.
While touring in support of the new album, Anderson, who lives in Portland, has also been working on a multimedia art piece. It's another ambitious project, using music as a way of showcasing her writing and visual art skills. But once that's out, Anderson is going to take a break from thinking big.
"After I get done," she says, "I plan on making the simplest possible record I can think of."