Review Summary: Emma Ruth Rundle finds redemption through acceptance.
Emma Ruth Rundle’s third album, “Marked for Death”
, was a word-of-mouth marvel in 2016. Smothered in trauma and tormented with rare glimpses of respite, that album was a harrowingly personal journey through the headspace of its creator at the time. It seems fitting then that its successor, “On Dark Horses”
, reveals a liberating quality, a desire to break free or at least come to terms with past anxieties and sufferings while retaining her intimately honest songwriting.
In terms of technique, little has changed when comparing her two most recent outputs together. Instead, it is the overall mood of “On Dark Horses”
that reveals itself as a different creature to its predecessor. Before, guitars drenched in reverberation would crash over you like relentless waves, eroding your stony spirit piece by piece over time. Now, they exhibit a warmer, shimmering allure, where the reverb envelops you in a tangibly comfortable embrace. Initially, “Light Song” sounds grim, where murky vocals apathetically trudge through downtrodden melodies, however, the song materialises into something hypnotically uplifting as the melodies and her voice gradually becomes brighter and lighter. It’s incredible to hear how an artist’s state of mind can influence the atmosphere of music while the physical techniques of creating it remain virtually unchanged.
Many find that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is so alluring about Emma Ruth Rundle’s music, however, the answer is revealed most visibly on this album: it’s not that the music is simply dark. The atmosphere is, at face value, ‘dark’, but when you look further than that you discover the atmosphere is dark because it’s layered with subtle details- plodding drums timed to gently emphasise the mournful aura and how her voice occasionally quivers with hope amongst her own sorrowful lyrics, for example. “Control” expands in pressure repetitively until the chorus breaks free of restraint so the guitars flourish behind her soaring vocals. Free from the repetitive groove, inquisitive pattering melodies appear before the song hits its climax when the guitar’s reverb swells as if finally stretching from the inertia of control. Due to how obviously ‘dark’ these songs are, these minute magical moments may be overlooked by some despite how crucial they are in producing the album’s face-value.
Undeniably, her voice is the main attraction. Somehow, she is able to conjure feelings of opposing forces-relief and regret, comfort and anxiety, desire and sorrow- and persuade them to cooperate in unison to produce a hauntingly beautiful sound powered by personal experiences. Though it sounds like her voice is covered by a gossamer layer of smoke, these honest narratives materialise most noticeably in moments of calm reflection during sympathetic songs such as “Darkhorse” where she expresses a yearning desire for freedom. Emma’s voice commands such a strong presence that the instrumentation often gravitates around whatever she is expressing at the time. Lazy chords and dreamy melodies drift around her sleepy singing during the wonderful “Races”, meanwhile, “Fever Dreams”, a song about feeling as if fear is an inescapable sensation, evokes restlessness with a persistent drumbeat always lurking in the background no matter how her lyrics and voice express how desperately she is trying to rid herself of fear.
Whereas artists such as Chelsea Wolfe and King Woman are detouring form their folksy roots and curiously investigating how heavier methods such as murky electronics or a more dedicated focus on grooves can influence their music, Emma Ruth Rundle refines her craft further by creating an album as melancholic as her peers without cherry-picking from neighbouring genres and expertly sewing subtle intricacies into her minimalistic music to create something that sounds genuinely redemptive.