Sometimes I don’t get to things right away in music. Ok, sometimes I don’t get to things right away at all. But hey, this is about the music so let’s keep on topic.
I’ve often been very guilty of not checking things out in a timely fashion. It is easier than ever to explore unheard artists through streaming platforms, YouTube, etc. And social media offers more music recommendations than a person could ever really keep up with.
And maybe that’s the problem – there’s too much. Too many artists, too many scenes, too much information. It is a problem in this day and age and it has some pretty brutal consequences sometimes. But again, this is just about the music, I’m not gonna deep-dive on some philosophical tangent about society.
Anyway, I’ve seen the name Emma Ruth Rundle around for a few years, I guess since the album I’m about to discuss came out. I first actually heard her in 2020 on her collaboration album with sludge lords Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full. I thought that was pretty cool stuff but 2020 was a psycho year for me and I didn’t have a lot of spare time to explore ERR any further.
Then earlier this year I finally found myself blessed with some spare time and a willingness to explore more artists that I hadn’t been in the right space to give a chance to previously. I drifted over to Spotify, saw the kind of cute/funny cover to this album, and pushed play.
Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
Released September 14, 2018 via Sargent House Records
Favorite Tracks – Dead Set Eyes, Darkhorse, Fever Dreams
Holy shit, man. Holy shit.
I’ve had several landmark moments of artist and album discovery in the past. But I’ll be honest – I thought those days were behind me. I’ve heard plenty of awesome stuff over the past years but I haven’t really been hit by an album since 2007. I had figured those days were behind me and I was just going to drift along until oblivion on a nostalgia kick, as though the magic was dead and my golden age was over.
But nah, here I am again.
On Dark Horses is an absolute masterpiece. The sometimes harrowing, other times triumphant lyrics wrapped in a light/harsh contrast study soundscape is just a whole other world of music than what I normally listen to. This is definitely its own thing and exists purely outside most musical descriptors, well, besides stuff like amazing or spectacular.
For this week I’m going to take the album track-by-track, that’s a little easier for me when tackling something I’ve come into more recently.
The album opener just goes straight into how things are going to be for the next forty minutes. This song sounds exactly like what its title suggests – a fever dream. The music flows with dissonant melody while Emma’s lyrics convey the delirium and loss of reality associated with the subject matter. The song is a standout on an album full of choice songs.
This song lets the music do the talking. The vocals kind of blend in to the battle between noise and light going on with the guitars. It has a shoegaze vibe to it, which would be familiar ground for ERR. But overall it’s a war of sounds that we are all winners in.
One of the album’s highlight cuts, Darkhorse is a steady march toward a powerful, triumphant conclusion. Emma has discussed some of the very personal meaning behind this song in interviews. I’ll leave that sort of stuff alone since I can gather that it’s pretty deep stuff and I’m far too uninformed to offer some opinion on it.
But this song? Yeah it’s stellar. This quasi-title track is an open advertisement for how amazing this whole album is. There are some powerful lyrics in here – “smile like you mean it and just cast the light of Hell right out of here” is a gem of wordsmithing. Unlike the aural assault of Control, Darkhorse’s music contains its power and complements the vocals.
We get to the album’s halfway point with a chill vibe kind of song. I wouldn’t say it meanders but it does drift along toward a celebration of the night. Having been a night owl for a lot of the past 20 years I can dig it. Even now that I’m back in total daywalker mode I can still appreciate what’s going on here. It’s a smooth, gently-flowing tune that helps balance the sometimes heavy shit going on lyrically.
Dead Set Eyes
As for that “sometimes heavy shit,” here it is. Emma has said that this song is about her leaving Los Angeles. Well, I don’t know what happened there but damn it must’ve been big.
This song leapt out at me when I first played the album. Lyrically soul-crushing and sonically monstrous, it’s the perfect song to get a metalhead on board with ERR. It’s my favorite song from the record and honestly just one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, period. Nothing else I write about it will do it any justice.
This tune is another slow and steady march on to something. This time it’s a love song and it’s very well done. As the immortal Paris Hilton would say, “that’s hot.”
There are more songs about love than probably any other topic. It’s not my main cup of tea – to be honest, other than 80’s hair metal anthems, I’m not much of a love song guy. Most of my music collection deals with war, death and Satan.
But this is a fantastic opus about being into it with someone. The imagery of going into the water works well with the heavy yet flowing riff. It’s a different take on a love ballad and a very welcome one.
Apathy On The Indiana Border
This track is a more gently rolling musical number, quite atmospheric in nature as the riffs hang in the background. The title would indicate the song is about apathy but the density of some of the lyrics might obfuscate any clear message.
I decided to go straight to the source for this one and pull up a 2020 interview with Kerrang! Magazine where Emma explains the song.
“This song took so long to write, and I still kind of hate it! Lyrically, it’s about having the intense presence of apathy following you through your life. It’s about the manifestation of inaction, and not being able to feel or do anything. It still feels somehow unnatural to me when I perform it.”
I do get that. Indifference can be a blessing or a curse, depending on circumstance. It’s at times useful but it’s an obstacle and perhaps crippling other times. I’ve had my own dance with that over time and even today I can cop to that being a factor.
As for the song I don’t agree with Emma’s assessment – I think it’s a fantastic tune, gliding along while the opaque lyrical content flows along with it.
You Don’t Have To Cry
This intense album closes on a somber, sweet number that delivers an antidote to some of the heavier stuff conjured earlier in the tracklist. There is a lot going on lyrically which I don’t entirely pick up, but I take the song at face value as a nice way to close out a monster of a record.
On Dark Horses became an instant classic in my music library and has resonated with many people since its 2018 release. I could say that I regret not checking it out when it first hit. But, given the very screwed up nature of the past few years, maybe holding off on it wasn’t the worst idea. It was an album that certainly helped ease the tension of pandemic trauma and political discord ravaging the world today. I certainly can’t complain about having it around when I needed it, that’s for sure.
Of course this album is not Emma’s only one. Exploring her other projects and other solo releases has been an absolute pleasure. And in about a month she will release a new solo album, one with an apparently different style and direction than found here or even elsewhere in her catalog. Even without the benefit of years of hindsight, I can state without reservation that Emma Ruth Rundle is one of the best artists I’ve ever heard.