If there’s a common denominator between the songs on Emma Ruth Rundle’s new album – On Dark Horses (Sargent House) – it’s darkness. Rundle probably hears this a lot, and might even hate it, but there’s just no getting around it.
As luck would have it, darkness works for Emma Ruth Rundle, who has released two previous solo albums and played in various outfits, including Marriages, and the criminally underrated post-rock instrumentalists Red Sparowes.
Rundle’s solo work is filled with her brooding vocals, which lends an honesty to her music. This honesty is unique and gives her timbre hypnotic, yet accessible quality. What helps is that On Dark Horses is flawlessly constructed. Every square inch of these tracks is filled with unmovable sound and unrepentant atmosphere, oftentimes while Rundle’s guitar echoes over it, burning, like the last porch light left on Earth.
Opener “Fever Dream” is haunting, with tense, flogging verses (during which Rundle guarantees “You’re never gonna touch me”). Indicative of the rest of the album is the centerpiece “Darkhorse”, which gallops and stumbles, and is cut with Rundle’s defiantly sweet and sour voice. The track simply buzzes with electricity. However, the crown jewel of On Dark Horses is “Races”, a song that seems to borrow its’ sorrowful tone from Red Sparowes elegant 2006 album Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun. Rundle’s meditative guitar burns brightest here as she sings, “It’s my time to shine”.
While she may sound bereft, this isn’t as gloomy as it could be. For every lyric like “Sometimes the night is a prison” or “Everyday I’m fading away/again”, there are passages like “Nothing’s gonna stop us”, and “What doesn’t kill you will keep you alive”
On Dark Horses is near flawless, and will validly make plenty of year-end best-of lists. What’s even more valid is that it will assuredly find its way to the right listeners, the ones living in darkness, for whom Emma Ruth Rundle’s music will surely bring some light.
10/11 Ringing Ears
RIYL: PJ Harvey, Halo Benders, St. Vincent
More info: https://emmaruthrundle.bandcamp.com