Emma Ruth Rundle seems to have become an artist with a licence to shift around stylistically as much as she wants while still maintaining, and continuing to build, her devoted fanbase. Last year’s revered collaboration with Thou — May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones) was dense, heavy, aggressive and complex. Whilst everything Rundle turns her hand to shares a certain delicate and fragile emotional openness, Engine Of Hell (Sargent House) in most other senses explores the opposite end of the Emma Ruth Rundle sonic spectrum.
The album is largely quiet, spare, and minimalist in terms of instrumentation. Rundle’s voice is to the fore, with accompaniment often consisting of a lone piano or acoustic guitar, with violins, subtle synth sounds or harmony voices making occasional appearances. Post-production effects are also minimal — everything is very dry and direct so that it feels as though you’re sitting in a darkened room being given a private performance of these songs. As Rundle sings “the breath between things” on album opener and single “Return” you can indeed hear her breathe in between delivering her lines. The silence underneath the sparse backing music is palpable. With this sort of production there’s nowhere for the songs to hide. Pleasingly, they are utterly sublime. Engine Of Hell doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the songwriting rulebook, but that’s not the point. The songs are not only reminiscent of, but also up there quality-wise with those of the likes of Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Gillian Welch, and any number of other masterful singer-songwriters.
Engine Of Hell feels like a very personal expression, but the emotional honesty and fragile presentation seems to tap into something universal. This is a record that can bring a tear to the eye and a smile to the face at the same time; that can make you feel emotions that are strange, cathartic and instantly understandable. It’s a very human album. Once you settle into the simplicity of the arrangements you start to become sensitised to every subtle dynamic move — every move from whisper to moan; every rise and fall in the dynamics of the piano or guitar playing. It’s an almost meditative experience. Rundle’s delivery is beautiful. It feels as though she is completely letting go, eyes closed, and allowing herself to express without restraint, whilst simultaneously being in absolute control of every little inflection.
At times Engine Of Hell sounds almost like 60s folk-rock; at other times it could be compared to the more stripped-back side of indie / alternative music — Bright Eyes springs to mind, for example. This is not a heavy album. It’s not even a rock album. It is, however, at different times, dark, intense, powerful, joyful, soothing and cathartic. Anyone who appreciates the intimate and expressive delivery of powerful songs that touch the heart should hear Engine Of Hell. Absolutely glorious stuff.
Engine Of Hell will be released via Sargent House on 5th November 2021.
Buy it here: https://ffm.to/err-eoh
10 / 10