After two back-to-back "modern classics" (depending on who you ask), EMA falls short on her third, Exile In The Outer Ring.City Slang, 2017
7.3 / 10
What’s immediately noticeable about Erika M. Anderson’s third album, Exile In The Outer Ring, is the sense of dread. There always seems to be a rumbling bile that never vanishes from the songs other than maybe “Down and Out”. However, that song merely benefits from a clarity not present on Outer Ring‘s other songs. It’s still a moody declaration of anguish. In this particular instance, it’s a sense of feeling worthless and wondering, “What are you hoping for?” EMA’s previous album, The Future’s Void, was a strong, modern classic. This is funny because our reviewer of that album said the same of EMA‘s debut Past Life Martyred Saints. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of Exile In The Outer Ring.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s not good. In fact, many critics are singing its praises; hailing it for its commentary on the times. Yet, some of this “commentary” also feels like many are just reading too much into it, especially when sometimes its creator doesn’t yet grasp the song’s meaning. With “Blood and Chalk”, she wrote the song originally for the film, #Horror. At the time, it was about the experience of a 12-year-old girl moving out of childhood into young adulthood. However, her producer found a different meaning thinking it was about a school shooting. That one seemed to do for EMA as well after his impression. So really, who’s to say how clean-cut the meaning behind any of the songs are here? Maybe they have nothing to do with today’s highly volatile environment? Or maybe we want them to just too much?
There is a strong sense of womanhood on this album with many of the song’s narratives coming from a concrete female perspective rather than one that’s vague. It gives strength to a song like “7 Years” and how guilt weighs on the female consciousness where men may be less sympathetic to another person’s plight. Then, there’s album highlight “Receive Love” where EMA recalls an experience of listening to men joke about killing and dismembering women and how that affects her in relationships with any man. She sings, “I’m not always scared about the men/ Just that sometimes it’s hard to trust in them.” Obviously, misogyny is a major topic of discussion with our current POTUS. In this instance, Outer Ring feels on point.
However, the quiet industrial pop song, “I Wanna Destroy”, celebrates a desire for destruction. This sentiment could fit in any decade. “Breathalyzer” also follows a narrative that’s been a norm since the dawn of youthful cynicism — riding in a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You telling me that kids haven’t always felt angsty? Sure, maybe other listeners are hearing more than what’s here because they want to hear more. I want to listen to this album from their perspective. But I can’t. Perhaps I’m lost somewhere in the outer ring.