EMA is lost in the void

The EMA of “Past Life Martyred Saints” was fearless. Songs seemed to begin mid-stride, as if she had already been singing them for a while and we were just being dropped in the middle of the rock. She began compositions by singing acid-soaked lyrics like “(Screw) California, you made me boring” and took command of the early ’90s grunge/folk aesthetic, making music Kurt Cobain would be proud of.

But something happened in between her indie success in 2011 and the recording of her new album “The Future’s Void.” It seems that Erika M. Anderson has lost herself. In an interview with The Quietus, she said that when she listens to “Past Life Martyred Saints” now, she’s disconnected from it. It’s almost as if someone else had made that album.

Once one listens to the new record, it’s hard to disagree. Instead of attacking the music like she seemed to do before, this time out she’s charging each song with marching beats and electronics and sitting back, hoping that if she just repeats words over and over again, screaming them once in a while, that something will happen. And sometimes it does, but, unfortunately, most of the record lives up to the “Void” in the title.

After a few initial promising tracks, “Satellites” (which falls somewhere in between Nine Inch Nails and Patti Smith) and “So Blonde” (I wish Courtney Love could still write songs like this), each of which have recognizable pop structures and effective hooks, there’s a string of interchangeable songs that go from portentous balladry to tired repetition. I found my attention straying frequently and I really had to work hard to listen to most of the rest of the album.

“When She Comes,” which is, revealingly, one of the few acoustic guitar-based songs on the album, is a hint of what EMA can still do – the song captures that perfect Velvet Underground combination of emotion and apathy that every folk rocker aspires to.

Anderson said that when she tried to compose with guitars for this album, the results felt uninspired and fake. She had to try something different and I support that. I’m always one for experimentation. But there’s no denying that acoustic strumming takes her to heights that she doesn’t touch while getting lost in electronics. Some of the most exciting moments of “Past Life Martyred Saints” barely needed music. “Breakfast” was an inspired twist on the traditional lullaby “Hush, Little Baby” that showed, like Neil Young’s “Americana,” sometimes the best melodies are the ones we’ve already been singing all our lives. It was punk in that she just took something that’s all of ours and made it hers. It was one of the bold and brilliant moves that are all but absent on “The Future’s Void.”

All that being said, the fact that this album still has something to it is a testament to Anderson’s talents. Even when she’s floundering, she’s still got tricks up her sleeve. But I do hope she eventually finds herself again because I’ll come back running.

2 1/2 stars out of 4.

DOWNLOAD NOW: “So Blonde.”