Emma Ruth Rundle – ‘On Dark Horses’

By Danny Randon

The enigma of Emma Ruth Rundle has unravelled with caution and consideration over the course of three stunning solo albums. As an instrumentalist of cinematic potential in post-rock troupe Red Sparowes – and initially in her own right also – the Californian songstress gradually sought catharsis through searing lyricism and building monolithic walls of guitar, becoming a figure of fascination by spearheading a movement of ‘goth-folk’ artistes.

Where her peers seek to instil sonic dread and despair, Rundle veers towards brighter and, dare we say, more hopeful territories on her eagerly anticipated fourth album. It’s not so much about sinking into a deep watery abyss as it is striving to reach the surface and seizing that vital gasp of air in a state of delirium.

That’s not to say that ‘On Dark Horses’ sets off on a pleasant canter by any means; ‘Fever Dreams’ convulses with off-kilter snare hits akin to the experimental stylings of Rundle’s criminally-underrated band Marriages, before giving way to a chorus that basks in the light of a silver lining. The sombre tones of ‘Control’, in tandem with Rundle’s dulcet drawl, swoon with an intoxicating aura, flitting effortlessly between delicate reverberate guitars and enveloping waves of distortion, while the semi-eponymous ‘Darkhorse’ builds momentum with a thunderous intensity.

The broken-legged toy horse which adorns the record’s cover art serves as a harrowing yet graceful metaphor for ‘On Dark Horses’ and its composer, who herself says that the namesake creatures represent “a contained force that will win the race or exceed the expectation of society and self”. By the time you reach the delightfully dark duet between Rundle and her partner-and-bandmate Evan Patterson on ‘Light Song’ and the poignant farewell of ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’, you feel like you’ve finally reached the end of a bleak and painstaking period of introspection, ready to embrace better days with arms and mind wide open.

Staking a claim for her strongest solo release to date, Emma Ruth Rundle is fast becoming one of her generation’s finest purveyors of outsider art. ‘On Dark Horses’ enchants from its first rotation, but as with any great challenging record, give it your time and patience and it will reveal the full depth of its raw and staggering beauty.

DANNY RANDON

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