“Fuck California.” Erika M. Anderson knows how to make an entrance. She co-fronted South Dakota doom folk outfit Gowns for four years (recording Red State in the process, one of the most underrated records in recent memory), and self-released her debut LP as EMA in 2010. But most people first heard her on “California,” the second single from her 2011 album Past Life Martyred Saints, a bilious work of free-verse in the vein of early Patti Smith. She looks back at those she left behind “wasted away alone on the plains” when she moved to the west coast. “What does failure taste like?/To me it tastes like dirt/And I'm beggin’ you please to look away.” It’s unhinged and unsettling, passionate, noisy, and frankly a bit scary: the entire record, indeed her career to date, in microcosm.
Anderson’s third LP, The Future’s Void, was released earlier this year on Matador, and she’s bringing her tour to Midpoint Music Festival on Saturday night. The new record lacks some of the immediacy of its predecessor, but makes up for it in sheer ambition and audacity. Right down to the Oculus Rift-bearing cover art, the record addresses our relationship to technology. She’s not the only one to get mileage from this topics; in the last year, Arcade Fire and St. Vincent both released entire albums focusing on it, but those records were largely looking at it from a distance. EMA is looking at the potentially deleterious effects of our interconnected world on the individual, and, specifically, on women.
The disarmingly pretty “3jane” acts as a thesis statement: “Feel like I blew my soul out across the interwebs and streams/It was a million pieces of silver and I watched them gleam/Iit left a hole so big inside of me/And I get terrified that I will never get it back to me/I guess it’s just a modern disease.” In a blog post about the song, she wrote: “I never had that ‘thing’ that happens when you wake up one morning and somehow your life is ruined because a mortifying picture goes viral or a “funny” tweet becomes horribly misread.... But it did that to somebody. And now we all have this stupid crippling fear that someday it will happen to us.”
The Future’s Void represents a turning point for Anderson. Her previous work, both with and without Gowns (and seriously, if you haven’t heard Red State, get on it), was so focused on the on the personal, the specific, the kid in the South Dakota yard who “will huff gasoline and rape a girl while she's passed out on the sofa/Years and years and years later.” She’s taken the too-close-for-comfort touch of those hyperpersonal records and applied it to topics that sometimes seem too big for our society and civilization to grapple with. If it makes you uneasy, it’s doing its job. All the more reason the Know Theatre--itself a space for exploratory and uncomfortable art--is the perfect venue for her set.