by Nick Otte (@ottenicholas)
Emma Ruth Rundle has carved out a corner for herself as a trustworthy source of alternative music that is moving, elegant, and often heartrending. Her latest effort, Marked For Death, is a stirring collection of songs that act as a testament to her own creativity, and is her finest work to date.
Previously a member of Red Sparowes and part of active project Marriages, Rundle’s first solo full length, 2014’s Some Heavy Ocean, proved beyond a doubt that she functioned just as well outside of an ensemble as within one. That record introduced listeners to an unapologetic persona whose concerns were entrenched in darkness and light in equal measure. Her music can be described, opaquely, as alternative rock, but for all her modern flair, her work feels first and foremost like a newfangled form of folk, transposed into something contemporary rather than held back by the genre’s rigid tropes. Whatever you call it, the music across this album bolsters the truest name for Rundle herself: a gifted songwriter.
This is clear from the very first notes of “Protection,” a powerful lead single that showcases Rundle’s penchant for catchy, appealing tunes without sacrificing her more experimental sensibilities. Her moods are deftly painted with what sounds like an arsenal of effects, which would mean little without her talent in understanding of how to utilize them. Rundle’s guitar, often bathed in reverb but never hidden, is a medium through which she speaks, rather than a tool or platform on which she stands. At times it is lush and crystalline, as on the insidious title track, and at others seems buried in a bramble of rough thorns, as on the harshly soothing “Real Big Sky.” The blending of her voice with her instrument is now and then hypnotically indistinguishable and makes her guitar as important a part of her storytelling as her words.
Tracks like “Furious Angel” and “Medusa” use vocal colors that call to mind The Cranberries and The Sundays, nodding to innovative female vocalists who paved the way for some of today’s finest performers and songwriters. Rundle, along with artists like Mitski, stand as examples of a domination of darkly beautiful music by powerful and forward thinking musicians who also happen to be women. She allows her voice to break, to falter, but never without a measure of graceful intent. Hopefully this brutal honesty and sheer force of talent will inspire musicians of all backgrounds and genres to further explore the depths of their creativity – those darker corners that reveal themselves in quiet moments. This is bold music, deep and wide, and inexorably human.
Marked For Death is a powerful effort that falls comfortably in line with her past work, both solo and ensemble, but thankfully builds upon every note played previous. Rundle is a raw and undeniable talent, and has more in her hands and her mouth than most bands share among many. She is a fiercely modern one-woman wrecking ball, wielding her power with the skill and care of one well beyond her years. Marked For Death acts as proof of life and the solidification of an artist who is ready to be heard and felt, and will surely be met with great affection by any who will listen.