The Blow is Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne. A shape-shifting entity, The Blow has taken various forms over time and manifests in an array of media, employing popular music as a vehicle for broader explorations. Operating between contexts and genres, the duo works with sound composition and recording, performance, installation, writing, and physical media, aiming to address and expand the limitations encountered within each framework.
Their recent album The Blow received critical acclaim, being featured on both of the New York Times’ best songs of 2013 lists as well as selected as the top album of the year by NPR’s All Songs Considered. They curate the website WOMANPRODUCER.com, a collection of images and web-links of female music producers, engineers and sonic innovators.
Their performances have been presented at art centers such as The Wexner Center, The Kitchen, Artists Space, The Warhol Museum, On The Boards, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, and Pulse Art Miami as well as in traditional music venues such as The Henry Fonda Theater, Great American Music Hall, Joe’s Pub and The Gramercy Theater. They live and work in New York City.
“For me if this record could do anything, it would be to bridge a divide. To say, hey, yes, Middle America I see you, I believe your economic woes and drug problems are real, but also, don’t let your patriotism and your anger be exploited by con men, don’t let your values be eroded by spite.” — EMA
EMA began with the urge to self-exile. After the success of Past Life Martyred Saints and 2014’s prophetic The Future’s Void, EMA retreated to a basement in Portland, Oregon – a generic apartment complex in a non-trendy neighborhood, with beige carpeting and cheap slat blinds. She returns with a portrait of a world both familiar and alien: The Outer Ring, a pitch-black world of half-empty subdivisions, American flags hung over basement windows, big-box stores and strip malls and rage. In a year dominated by working-class alienation, EMA — a Midwesterner who has never lost her thousand-yard stare — has delivered an album that renders American poverty and resentment with frightening realism and deep empathy.
The Outer Ring is the suburban world of people who’ve been pushed out of city centers by stagnating wages and rising expense, forced up against rural communities swallowed by sprawl. It’s far more diverse than traditional images of “the suburbs” – vape shops and living-room hair salons exist next to Mexican grocery stores and Dollar General. But it’s also more deeply marked by poverty and tension, and by the anger that comes from having your story and your struggles erased from the narrative. Songs like “I Wanna Destroy” (which shares a title with her 2015 MoMA PS1 exhibition) and “Down & Out” flicker between self-loathing and nihilism — an anger born of pain from being neglected by those in power, but no less alarming when we realize that “the kids from the void” might burn the world down.
The voices we hear in these songs — druggy, surly societal outcasts; Byronic blue-collar nihilists bringing down fire — speak to a rebellion that’s typically reserved for men. Think Bruce Springsteen’s similarly bleak outlaw portraits in Nebraska, or the quintessentially American (and quintessentially dudely) voices of Jack Kerouac or Charles Bukowski. “During the process of this record I realized that I was ‘socialized male’ in my teen years,” says EMA. “I hung out with groups of dirtbag boys, listened to their music. I understand them, even though I was never fully a part of them. ‘Rebellious teenage dirtbag boy’ is such an outsized force in America especially… his insecurities have hijacked the nation, and his penchant for ‘joke racism’ has turned really fucking ugly. Yet I also have empathy for this person.”
Exile in the Outer Ring claims that same dirtbag alienation for women — “a woman who swallowed a scumbag teen boy whole,” as EMA puts it. “He’s still inside her but in the end she’s the actual spine of steel, nihilist with the gaze, wiser survivor.” Navigating the rough terrain of femininity is not new for EMA. The Future’s Void read as a prescient statement on surveillance, but it also detailed EMA’s fears about being publicly female — a potential subject for online abuse and media trivialization, all too easily reduced to just another girl with a past and proclivities. She toured less, turned down interviews, and hid her face on the album cover, taking control by refusing to play into the trope of the blonde trainwreck.