Following two broken indie big-hitters in Past Life Martyred Saints and the more polished Future's Void, EMA offers up a twilit record about the bubbling anger of the American Midwest. The themes on Exile In the Outer Ring are prescient and the music continues EMA's threadbare approach to aesthetics, offering up both skeletal and fully-fledged versions of folk, noise and the grey areas inbetween.
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Having made some of the best indie pop detritus of the past decade but gone quite undeservedly under the radar, I’m going to be spending most of this week wondering why EMA didn’t get big. I guess I know why: her sound, deliberately uneven, has never developed into one thing, instead strange and unknowable, with both open arms and middle fingers.
EMA’s new record, ‘Exile In The Outer Ring’, proves her a master of a few different types of debris: having made a debut that juggled scarred, downbeat songwriting with disdaining punk, she went on to master sleuthing textures and deranged noise experiments. Here, she makes a record caved in on itself, inaccessible to the listener, its melodies diluted on opener “7 Years” into a shoegaze white flag. “Breathalyzer” is a slow, turgid rock song that barely wants to rock, the rhythm taking place faraway as a noisy, distorted foreground chomps on its listener. It’s on “I Wanna Destroy” she comes into focus as a songwriter -- with a repetitive, numbing take on grunge in which her cracked voice sinks into a sea of samey chords.
If ‘Exile In The Outer Ring’ sees some of EMA’s her darkest, least inviting work yet, it also offers guidebook moments on how to take it, spreading her dour message into moments of lucidity like “Down and Out” -- a pop masterpiece that trades on the same grey slab sound, but with a staccato rhythm and a simple chorus that clutches you to its hook. “Fire Water Air LSD” opens with synth disdain as nauseating as some of Pharmakon’s work, but meshes industrial noises together until a hype song comes out the other end. At times it reminds me of Blanck Mass -- at others Icona Pop.
What EMA is doing on this album -- taking her music and quite happily smashing it to hateful little pieces -- is nothing new for her. Knowing how it is, she sings in an ambivalent monotone, a disaffected hum amongst a torrent of noise. She's happy to let her listener be the breathless one.
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