For those not familiar with Emma Ruth Rundle, she first made a name for herself as part of post rock band Red Sparrowes, before moving onto the slightly more melodic Marriages, followed by the folkgaze of The Nocturnes and eventually her solo career. Emma has already spellbound fans with stunning performances in support of the likes of 40 Watt Sun and packed out The Green Room at Roadburn 2017. ‘On Dark Horses’ is her fourth and most eagerly anticipated album. Expanding upon the darkness of previous release ‘Marked for Death’, this record sees Emma traverse heavier sounds and more troubled subject matter.
This is the first solo effort on which Rundle has not played all of her own guitars – ‘On Dark Horses’ sees contributions from her partner Evan Patterson. Rather than taking away her creativity, this has granted her the freedom to be more expressive throughout – the album is about overcoming and growing beyond difficult situations and this is heavily reflected within the lyrics on songs such as ‘Fever Dreams’ stating “And if I ever manage to get out, it’s all this waking life…just drags me down”. This is the most powerful Emma’s voice has ever sounded and the chorus to ‘Darkhorse’ sends chills up the spine as she sings “It’s the darkhorse you give legs to, no one else can ride”. The delicate texturing of the instrumentals placed alongside Emma’s ethereal sounding vocals makes for intense juxtaposition, but they ebb and flow to complement each other perfectly – when the drums sound their most primitive is when Emma’s voice is at its softest, while when she really pushes her vocal delivery the instrumentals pull right back to allow her singing to take centre stage.
There is nothing heavy handed whatsoever on this record and this is part of what makes it so dark – Emma doesn’t really have to try at all to convey raw emotions, it just comes naturally in every delicate nuance of her song writing. This is an opus that’s beautiful from start to finish – it’s a cathartic listen and sonic affirmation that even in the darkest moments there’s always a glimmer of light.
(9/10 Angela Davey)