Emma Ruth Rundle delivers some of her most intricate, dense, and powerful material to date on her fourth full-length album, On Dark Horses.
From her time spent in the Nocturnes, Red Sparowes and Marriages, to her solo discography up to date, Rundle has explored various musical realms and pushed the confines within each. This consistent exploratory nature has provided an eclectic and varied body of work, most notable with her solo recordings. Rundle would trade in the droning guitar instrumentals of Electric Guitar: One for stripped-down, yet transcendental acoustic numbers on 2014’s Some Heavy Ocean. She would then opt for more full-band arrangements on 2016’s Marked for Death and weave introspective tales of mortality backed by a huge, guitar-driven sound that echoed her work in Marriages, albeit in a less “aggressive” context.
With On Dark Horses Rundle has, unsurprisingly, shown that she refuses to stagnate. This new record capitalizes on its predecessor’s emphasis on huge washes of guitar and highly textural song compositions and pushes them to the brink. With the aid of Wovenhand and Jaye Jayle members, Rundle crafts genre-defying anthems of overcoming across 43 somber, beautiful, and driving minutes.
The slow-burning “Fever Dreams” kicks things off to a rather kaleidoscopic start with its ambient, twinkling guitar textures that bleed into massive walls of fuzzy, swirling sounds. Rundle‘s unique, entrancing vocals spearhead the psychedelic track as it continues to transition back and forth from wavering, colorful verses to heavy, atmospheric choruses. This enthralling blend of dreamlike and crushing characteristics can be witnessed throughout On Dark Horses, but not quite as overt as the album’s opening one-two punch, which concludes with “Control”. The aforementioned track cycles between ethereal clean guitar merriment and heavily-distorted chords throughout, employing some noisy leads here and there for good measure.
The album’s fourth track, “Races”, sees the album taking a more Western-tinged turn. The reflective tune features bellowing, twangy guitars that creep along in an equestrian fashion while gossamer-thin layers of warm, desert atmosphere drape over everything. Similar bluesy phrasing and techniques are also employed in the sprawling “Darkhorse”, but the song soon takes on an thunderous form that nods towards post-rock and shoegaze, yet refuses to be either one.
Monolithic sludgy tones and bluesy groove collide on the dynamic sixth track, “Light Song”. Here Rundle and company seamlessly meld the avalanche-inducing guitar work of earlier tracks with layers upon layers of airy atmosphere that swallow listeners whole. The vocal interplay between Rundle and bandmate Evan Patterson on this track adds an interesting and striking layer to the song, and the album as a whole. Then this entire dense and multifaceted affair comes to a surprising, yet satisfying close with the bright “You Don’t Have to Cry”. This ethereal folk tune, propelled further into transcendental territory by way of Rundle‘s fluttering vocals, jaunts towards a final rush of gorgeous sound that ends the record on a high and hopeful note.
On Dark Horses is a completely engrossing musical endeavor that warrants, more so demands repeated listens. Rundle and her collaborators have outdone themselves and most likely continue to do so.
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Label: Sargent House
Favorite Tracks: “Fever Dreams”, “Control”, “Darkhorse” and “Dead Set Eyes”
For Fans Of: Esben and the Witch, Chelsea Wolfe, King Dude and Big Brave