A voice from beyond the grave, a scraping, harrowing ballad
Why You Should Care:
Erika M. Anderson, who records under the name EMA, describes her new record Exile in the Outer Ring as a concept record about life in the struggling outer suburbs. In concert and record, the Outer Ring as she depicts it is a placeless American white trash dystopia of strip malls, opioids, online surveillance, DUI arrests, and political paranoia.
The harrowing “Blood and Chalk,” written originally for a soundtrack for a teen horror movie, is the record’s highlight — a scraping, haunted ballad for the generation of kids who grew up in the shadows of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails and Eminem. It’s not an industrial track; Anderson plays thudding guitar and sings with only minimal electronic processing over droning keyboards. But something about it is lifeless and mechanical, in a very deliberate approach, from the funereal drumming to the scorched-earth singing.
“I know the rage that fills me/but I’m just what you made me,” starts the final verses. And while it could have been a storming anthem, “Blood and Chalk” is sung with a tone of sad acceptance and regret, rather than rage. And only in the closing lines does the subtext become plain: the blood is on the street, and the chalk surrounds the outline of a victim of gun violence. A police shooting? A suicide? A drug deal gone bad? In the Outer Ring, it may not matter.