An Emma Ruth Rundle show tests the boundaries of silence. You stand motionless because you want to soak in every delicate splinter of guitar and, through the muddled grays of her echoey voice, miraculously piece together fragments of words. But that feeling of needing to remain still, keeping an unwavering focus on her black frame goes beyond a choice. It’s a magnetic force, and you can’t break hold.
Some Heavy Ocean, released May 20 on Sargent House, is L.A.-based Rundle’s breakaway project. She’s gathered years of noisy playtime with Marriages, Red Sparowes and The Nocturnes, proving herself as a fearlessly talented guitarist. This year’s solo album captures this talent in a whole new vein but also sheds light on her ethereal vocal qualities that span from gentle ripples to thunderous cliff side waves in a matter of seconds. Each song, even more pronounced in a live setting, takes a surprising turn and Rundle delivered them poker faced on stage. Her gaze remained downwardly transfixed during almost the entire set at Wicker Park’s intimate upstairs venue Subterranean, making only the most sporadic eye contact with the audience before her. It began and ended without frills and devoid of banter. Rundle was all business, but it felt right.
“If we both get caught, we both run forever” she sang with a pained beauty on “Run Forever.” She opened with hit “Shadows of My Name,” and it somehow contained more magic when performed live than recorded. Partway through the performance, Rundle asked us if we could hear the guitar over the buzzing feedback, to which we responded with a resounding “yes.” A restless energy bound each song together,and they often flowed into one another without pause. Rundle didn’t need any fanfare or acknowledgement that we were all enamored. A visual artist as well, some of Rundle’s dark pieces were displayed at the merch table being manned by her sister.
“I’m way more afraid of you than you are of me, so you can come closer,” Rundle said in a breathy plea before closing out with “Arms I Know So Well” and “Living With a Black Dog.” It was one of the first and final times she spoke that night, preceded by only one smile: “Thank you for being quiet.”