You learn something new every day, so they say. Today I learned that Emma Ruth Rundle is a member of Red Sparowes, a band who I’ve been listening to for some years, originally oblivious to any connection to Sargent House, the label bringing us this continuous lineage of outstanding music.
Some Heavy Ocean is Emma’s debut solo album and it must surely rate as one of the most assured and remarkable debut albums to be released in years. Clearly a very prolific and capable musician, Emma is also a member of Marriages, one of the few acts on the Sargent House roster I have yet to engage and I must correct that forthwith.
Beginning with a brief intro/title track ‘Some Heavy Ocean’ heaves with the weight of an ocean, it’s amazing how a physical entity is conveyed so brilliantly through music. The swirling backtracking and early introduction to Emma’s stunning voice is a wonderful start.
‘Shadows of my Name’ is mainly acoustic led with a haunting backing of additional slide guitar. Emma’s voice is rich with emotion and depth, the track beginning quietly before swelling with resonant depth. Drums assist with increasing the volume but are never intrusive. When Emma’s voice turns to a more aggressive style, she recalls Sinead O’Connor at her finest. This album gives me the same feeling of something special that I experienced when I first heard O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got. The songs, playing and striking twists and turns of the vocals showcasing a true talent.
The album’s pace and structure is perfectly positioned, another brief interlude ‘Your Card the Sun’ is barely there acoustic guitar flicks and ethereal vocals reverbed out of the room. Apt that the album was recorded at Sargent House’s home studio, Echo Park. A straight from the off rocking number, ‘Run Forever’ features untreated acoustic guitars and slide guitars duelling over an intense hum of a bass groove. Emma’s voice breathily sighing the verse before the chorus offers solidarity with “If we both go down, we go down together”. Perhaps a lazy comparison, but this track, along with a few others, does remind me of Chelsea Wolfe, however Rundle always manages to retain her own unique identity.
The album’s standout track, ‘Haunted Houses’ is full of melody and hooks, though that’s probably not the intention of the song, it really does emphasise Rundle’s way with a tune. Emma’s voice is overflowing with emotion and twists and turns through the winding melody with consummate ease at the end. It is quite simply put, a beautiful song.
This is followed with another track with an astonishing and beguiling melody, ‘Arms I Know So Well’, which begins with just voice, acoustic guitar and a light splash of cymbals. The fingering of the strings almost acting as a percussive device, every scrape and squeak kept in the mix.
There’s a contrast in detail between ‘Oh Sarah’ and ‘Savage Saint’, the former is one of the sparsest tracks, gothic in (Wolfe) tone, while the latter resonates with fuller strings over simplistic acoustic strums. Emma’s voice ably filling in any pockets of emptiness, no doubt exemplified by the family problems and personal struggles that influenced the songs and sound of the album. Beautiful reverb washes over the deep repetitive ‘riff’ of ‘We Are All Ghosts’, percussive cracks and thunderous toms assist with the chorus. Final track ‘Living with the Black Dog’ is the most intense and sonically violent song on the album. The guitars are given a rougher tone with some additional broken amplification, it’s a chilling end to an album that although bleak at times, offers hope and a brighter future.
Whilst this may be a debut album from an apparent new name (to me anyway), Emma Ruth Rundle has been making music and playing guitar with some serious ability for some years. It would appear the writing and recording of these songs took an immense amount of effort on her part, but sometimes, the catharsis is a cleansing process and the good will out. On Some Heavy Ocean, the good is most definitely out.