"But disassociation, I guess, is just a modern disease." So sings Erika M. Anderson in the closing moments of "3Jane," a pretty, yet disquieting ballad that freely references William Gibson's Neuromancer, the influential cyberpunk sci-fi novel known for coining the term "cyberspace." When it was published in 1984, the story of a past-his-prime hacker in a cold virtual reality was speculative futurism in the mold of Blade Runner or TRON. But its themes may resonate even more today. In "3Jane," Anderson -- the singer, musician, and mastermind who performs as EMA -- grapples with internet-based anxiety, from toxic comment thread anonymity, to the sense of detachment of identity that comes with feeding an endless stream of digital content in the age of social media. This recurring motif -- of exposing "true self" versus "selfies," of objectification and celebrity, and of personal privacy -- is one that the former Gowns singer establishes early and iterates often throughout her incisive new record, The Future's Void.
Anderson's lyrics have always been raw and extremely personal, but over the album's ambitious ten songs, she turns that self-reflection outward. With bursts of broken signal static and doom-conjuring synthesizers, "Satellites" paints a dystopian picture of thousands of all-seeing, information-gathering peeping toms. ("We fought the wars with information.") And in the industrial, electronic banger, "Neuromancer," she critiques how we constantly document calculated versions of ourselves in real time. ("They know more about the things you do.")
But even amid producer Leif Shackelford's stormy paranoia and scorching dissonance, EMA is still able to find dreamlike beauty in her music -- building a tapestry of melodic hooks, throbbing synths, and gloriously abrasive guitar lines into some of her catchiest, most accessible sounding pop songs to date. Take "Solace," which finds EMA examining love: "We make constellations out of beauty marks, we make constellations out of falling stars," she sings amid a glittery synth pop track. And elsewhere, The Future's Void impressively mashes up a variety of moods: gothic synth pop ("Smoulder"), '90s rock ("So Blonde" and "When She Comes"), and even funereal hymnals ("Dead Celebrity") -- complete with a melody and militaristic snare rolls that slyly winks at "Taps." But through it all is Anderson's breathy, yet powerful voice that equally recalls the charisma of Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O, and the violent howl Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor.
The Future's Void (out April 8) seems to be arriving in the right cultural moment: It's a time when the public is questioning NSA surveillance and corporations that market to us via behavior-predicting algorithms and Netflix-style recommendation engines. But it's also a time where most of us don't bat an eye when happily over-sharing on Twitter and Instagram. EMA may not have answers to the issues she's bringing up; hell, she may even be embracing some of these tropes in her aesthetic. But with this album, and these songs, she offers thoughtful and visceral ideas that at least further the conversation.