Review Summary: Closure
Emma Ruth Rundle, also of post-rock/gazey band Marriages and atmospheric sludge group Red Sparrowes, has transitioned into solo singer-songwriter territory, which was only fully realized on 2014’s Some Heavy Ocean
. Here, on Marked for Death
, we see her vocals embody Dolores O’Riordan’s entrancing lilt, Grace Slick’s psych-folk wandering, and Raine Maida’s alt-rock edge. Instrumentally, her guitar occupies spaces of shoegaze, post-rock, and sludge (basically an amalgamation of prior work). Texturally, the album is lusciously layered, thanks in part to co-producer Sonny DiPerri (a collaborator in some of Portugal. The Man’s material, among many others). While feeling quite tender, vulnerable, and small
, Marked for Death
expands into a vast sonic realm. Unfortunately, Rundle’s artistic vision feels too grounded for the existential and spiritual subject matter. One suspects the singer might have been on the cusp of a deep, near-death awakening, and simply chose not to explore any further; she covers a lot of ground, but doesn't truly tests the dimensions. Maybe an impending, inevitable death has made her compliant and casually introspective. Or defeated and humbled.
Despite the conceptual tethering, Marked for Death
boasts some lovely melodies, primarily in “Protection”, “Furious Angel”, “So Come”, and closer “Real Big Sky”. Even with the singer-plus-guitar straightforwardness of the confessionals, Rundle captures plenty of nuance and evocative themes. There are places where the guitar could be confused with creative percussion implementation, or where it accents the song understatedly, propelling Rundle’s intended mood further than her lyrics would have otherwise. The album’s promotional spiel promises all levels of devastating personal grappling, and it’s likely hyperbole. Marked for Death
is, for the most part, a display of smart production and captivating melodies. Still, regardless of all that, Emma encompasses her vision admirably with “Real Big Sky”, ironically the most modest-sounding number. The song features crunchy, barebones guitar work doctored with clever, intricate finishes, but it’s the simplicity of the lyrics that makes it all worthwhile. The chorus goes, “I don’t wanna be awake when it takes me / but I can’t wait to see you smile on the other side / I can’t wait to kiss the face of the big sky / I don’t wanna say ‘goodbye' to you
This isn’t exactly provocative philosophy, but in conjunction with the preceding themes of failure and heartache, it’s the album’s biggest, most effective statement. Despite the harrowing series of swan songs and constant questioning, it’s telling that, in Rundle’s last moments, she devolves into such frank, peaceful thoughts. One almost wishes more people were interviewed in their dying, bedridden moments (though it’s clearly understandable why this isn’t a frequent practice). It would reveal a lot about the human condition. Possibly that, despite our labyrinthine attempts at soul-searching, we’re willing to shed that dead weight in favour of something instinctual and untarnished: the mere presence of a loved one, and optimistic release. Suddenly, Marked for Death
is less ill-boding and begrudging, becoming a paean of acceptance.