Erika M. Anderson’s music under the EMA moniker has always been an attempt to take the seismic cultural shifts that rock our society and turn them inwards. Her albums carry this burden for us as Anderson imbues her songs with the weariness of cultural overload. With 2014’s The Future’s Void, she tackled technology with equal doses of curiosity and disdain, and it’s precisely this willingness to see things from perspectives outside of the dominant sphere that animates her latest album, Exile In The Outer Ring.
Outer Ring finds Anderson exploring alienation, disenchantment, and anger, not just amongst a certain group of people, but proliferating outwards from the city streets. Anderson’s idea of the ‘outer ring’ — the space that working class urbanites, poor farmers, and immigrants have been pushed to — is a wellspring of cultural clash and animosity. Rather than place the blame on these people — unwillingly relocating due to issues both economic and ideological — Anderson hones in on the city centers. The $5.00 coffees, the cute boutiques, the charmingly rubbish overpriced homes; these are the real agents of gentrification and homogeneity now pervasive throughout major American cities.
Anderson uses her EMA project to refract this increasingly dire cultural crisis on herself, using Outer Ring to examine the ways in which she impacts this phenomenon both explicitly and accidentally. Courting Jacob Portrait from Unknown Mortal Orchestra to help shape the record, Exile In The Outer Ring is EMA’s strongest, boldest, and most confident album yet.
It’s the platonic ideal of the EMA mission, harsh and grating with an underlying brilliance and shimmer — equal parts caustically clever and boisterously beautiful. We spoke with Anderson over the phone from her home in Portland to discuss shitty apartments, her old band, Gowns, and misinterpreting Outer Ring as an anti-Trump album.