EMMA RUTH RUNDLE
PLUS JO QUAIL
Saturday 13 August, 2022. 7.30pm doors.
£18 plus booking fee if bought online, tickets also available at the venue less booking fee.
Emma Ruth Rundle has always been a multifaceted musician, equally capable of dreamy abstraction , maximalist textural explorations, and the classic acoustic guitar singer-songwriter tradition. But on Engine of Hell, Rundle focuses on an instrument that she left behind in her early twenties when she began playing in bands: the piano. In combination with her voice, the piano playing on Engine of Hell creates a kind of intimacy, as if we’re sitting beside Rundle on the bench, or perhaps even playing the songs ourselves.
The instrument of Rundle’s childhood is the perfect vehicle for an album that is essentially a collection of memories from her youth, though one doesn’t need to dig too deep to realise Engine of Hell isn’t some saccharin nostalgia trip. As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that Engine of Hell is more memoir than pure poetry. On the soft-spoken acoustic guitar ballad, “Blooms of Oblivion” we’re given more explicit details. “Down at the methadone clinic we waited / hoping to take home your cure / The curdling cowards, the crackle of china / you say that it’s making you pure.” It gets even heavier on the album’s third song “Body,” where Rundle recounts a childhood memory of seeing a deceased family member wheeled away by strangers.
The memories and their accompanying songs aren’t always steeped in grief. “Dancing Man” is one of the most delicate and somber songs on the album, with its sleepy cadence and hushed delivery giving it a distinctly dream-like quality. Yet the song serves a positive purpose: it chronicles a cherished memory of Rundle dancing with a friend—an experience she returns to in dark moments when she needs the reminder of “perfect days with this perfect love that exists in a space which can never be taken away from me, can never be ruined, can never be changed.”
The catharsis of this type of songwriting has effectively served its purpose, and to continue ruminating on the past going forward is less of a healing process and more like picking at a scab and refusing to let it heal. This may help explain why Rundle is less than enthusiastic about divulging the details about her muses, but it doesn’t alter the fact that these songs served a purpose in their creation, and that they may continue to bring comfort to others.