EMA’s third album “The Future’s Void” opens with the pounding ‘Satellites,’ where she wails about “a world divided by a wall divided and a cube full of iron.” It is the crowning metaphor in an album full of them. Over the course of 10 thrashing and fascinating songs, EMA condemns modern times as a terrifying technocratic dystopia and tries to purge the ghost in her machine. While not every song is a success, the album as a whole is an important musical evolution.
“The Future’s Void” is largely a departure from the confessional post-punk of EMA’s 2011 album “Past Life Martyred Saints,” whose standout track ‘California’ found her upset with herself for stalling her life. On “The Future’s Void,” she turns her ire towards the system that she thinks is limiting her. Tracks like ‘Satellites’ and ‘Dead Celebrity’ target social media, privacy in the Internet age and autonomy with unrelenting furor. The album is certainly full of relevant messages, but all too often they are delivered in simplistic screeds such as “Makin’ a living off taking selfies/Is that the way you want it to be?” It’s thematically very similar to St. Vincent’s superior album from earlier this year, but whereas “St. Vincent” had nuance and legitimate wit, “The Future’s Void” bludgeons the audience with its message.
Fortunately, the musicality on display from EMA and her producer, Leif Shackleford, elevates the proceedings a great deal. “The Future’s Void” is an excellent continuation of ‘90s industrial rock—Trent Reznor would be proud. Despite the anti-mainstream theme, this is surprisingly the poppiest album of EMA’s career. The best song, ‘Neuromancer,’ sounds as though Nine Inch Nails and Giorgio Moroder combined to make the soundtrack for a post-apocalyptic disco. ‘When She Comes,’ one of the few lyrically sound tracks, is an eerily sinister beach rock tune mixed with the requisite industrial clanging. ‘100 Years’ is a sparse ballad that features EMA’s best performance, and what a performance it is! Her rangy and bruising voice works best in her angrier moods, but ‘100 Years’ proves how emotionally and vocally versatile she can be when she puts her mind to it. It makes you wish that she softened up a little more often.
“The Future’s Void” is a largely confounding album, which seems to be EMA’s intention. The lyrics are predominantly crude and devoid of subtlety, the opposite of which EMA has proven she is capable of (‘California’ still resonates three years later). However, the orchestration is easily some of the best she’s ever recorded. This split makes for a largely uneasy listen, but a worthwhile one. EMA may not have a handle on her themes, but “The Future’s Void” shows the potential she has to put out a true masterpiece in a few years.