ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
Emanating with a hauntingly pacifying aura, singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle continues to magnify her presence as an exhibitor of goth-folk splendor with each and every project she has influence over. This is no different with her latest record titled On Dark Horses. While Rundle’s work with Red Sparrowes, Marriages and The Nocturnes should not go without mentioning, the Los Angeles native has beamed with singularity ever since she self-released her solo debut Electric Guitar: One, back in 2011. In an attempt to surpass the cathartic appeal of 2016’s Marked for Death, Rundle is back, devastating those who dare to embark on her sweeping sound shrouded in darkness, with her most personal record yet. A project that furthers her mastery of coalescing cinematic realms of sound with indigenous acoustic guitarscapes, Rundle’s latest galvanizes her musical strengths while remaining equally brooding and lyrically dark. Throbbing with a gothic guise, On Dark Horses’ sound occupies a space between post-rock and neo-folk as Rundle enhances her mournful minor scale compositions with a more cinematic feel. While the record features some of Rundle’s most experimental and apocalyptic textures to date, the heart of these arrangements remains the romantic simplicity of her guitar and voice. With Rundle’s bewitching vocals lending to the album’s beguiled feel, calamity and mystery lurk beneath every nook and cranny of each song, beginning with the track Fever Dreams. Offset by undulating drums, Rundle’s pained voice warps and coils around diabolic guitars and echoey keys, lamenting over feelings of confusion, forlorn memories and present anxieties: “Fear, a feeling, is it real? So nostalgic too, it just puts the dark on you...A life spent uneasy, in pieces, always in pieces here / A life rent completely, release me away from fever dreams.” With themes of fear and delirium having appeared in Rundle’s lyrics in the past, they play an even bigger role this time around. Needless to say, these sentiments are counterbalanced by a spiritous desire to be liberated, which is embodied by the album’s lead single “Darkhorse.” “Run little sister, run so fast, I see he’s gaining on you / Take a breath and make it last, the darkwater horizon / Smile like you mean it and just cast the light of hell right out of here.” Commencing the track with a sense of urgency, Rundle appears to encourage her younger sibling to fight through some unspecified trauma, thus, a deepened sense of hope and perseverance perforates darkness. With a chorus of pure poignancy, Rundle breaks the chains of shame shackled on by a dark past: “It’s the darkhorse you give legs to, no one else can ride / In the wake of strange beginnings, we can still stand high.” Using the image of a horse as a visual representation of exceeding expectations set forth by society and even by one’s own self, On Dark Horses as a whole, captures an aggrieved artist bursting forth from the depths of trauma, stronger than ever. “The record is about overcoming—understanding and embracing the crippling situation and then growing beyond it,” Rundle says in the album’s press release. “Horses keep working their way into the lyrics and visual dimension of this record. Rundle’s music has always occupied a despondent place, but her latest record finally sees the 34-year-old virtuoso with a positive outlook on life, all while maintaining her somber sound. Elsewhere, the song “Light Song” features drone-y guitars combining with doom-ladened string sections to form quite the hellish experience. With ghostly keys sighing beneath the calamitously strung heft, Rundle’s Gaelic-y delivery couples with Evan Patterson’s dementedly burly baritone—the end result is a visceral and spellbinding duet that will remind many of Jarboe and Gira. Like most of the album’s cuts, “Light Song” burgeons into a cinematic eruption of sound where delicacy gives way to moments more violent while reticence implodes with each passing moment. Rundle punctuates On Dark Horses with an appropriately triumphant closing number titled “You Don’t Have To Cry,” a track she wrote in one go. Dedicated to a grief-stricken friend, the track radiates with grit and a sympathetic heart— It’s a befitting way to end such an emotionally raw album that grasps for the light at the end of the tunnel. Here, Rundle’s voice recalls the late and great Dolores O’Riordan while the music itself could have fit easily on Jeff Buckley’s Grace. While it's easy to praise what Rundle has accomplished musically with comparisons to ‘90s alt-rock legends, her latest project possesses its own character and its own cathartic qualities, for it reads like a chapter from her personal diary. There’s no denying how incredibly dark and ominous Rundle’s latest comes across, but as she slowly unearths hope, On Dark Horses offers a powerful reminder to take back control of your life, even when its crippling grasp clenches with fatal intent.
THE 405 RATING: 8/10