Review: Emma Ruth Rundle at DC9

Emma Ruth Rundle. (Courtesy of the artist.)
Emma Ruth Rundle. (Courtesy of the artist.)

WASHINGTON, September 12, 2014 − Emma Ruth Rundle, who performed here recently at DC9, seems like a musician who can never quite stay still. She’s been actively playing and performing in a professional sense since 2008.

Throughout this time she’s been a key member of three different bands, releasing a combined seven full length albums and EPs. This number goes up to eight this fall, 2014, as her current band, Marriages, releases their first full-length recording.

Rundle has been so prolific as part of these various ensembles over the last several years that it seems somewhat curious that she’s now decided to emphasize the solo aspect of her career. But seeing her live at DC9 drove home the point that what she’s doing now isn’t really a departure from what she’s done in the past. It’s another thread in her continuing exploration of related musical ideas. She’s just working out her ideas on her own at this point.

Maybe that’s why Emma Ruth Rundle’s set at DC9 didn’t feel all that different from what she’s done previously with Nocturnes or Red Sparowes or Marriages and it probably won’t be distinctly dissimilar from whatever direction she takes in the future.

In general, Rundle has a leaning towards avant-garde rock, favoring a backdrop of ambient guitar textures that vaguely resemble blues-rock. Her performance at DC9 generally didn’t vary from that predilection.

The one major noticeable difference, however, and generally the only one that really matters, is that she was taking whatever she’s experimented with before and stripping it down even further to uncover its basic elements. She played straight acoustic on a few songs here and there. But even switching to electric still gave her songs a minimalist feel, emphasizing the basic fundamentals she’s been exploring for nearly a decade now.

It’s a subtle difference that’s distilled even further when she starts to sing. Her distinct vocals echo throughout the venue, showcasing a voice that’s meticulous and economical in the way she expresses emotion without having to increase her volume.  She’s able to keep everything on an even keel, which gives her set a kinetic and eerie coherence as she moves from song to song.

As she demonstrated during her set at DC9, there is a steadiness and continuity to the musical path of Emma Ruth Rundle, and for anyone familiar with her previous output, this can only be construed as a positive.

For her, progress seems to be defined as continuously pushing forward and creating more music. Instead of advancing by means of dramatic changes, she’s chosen to increase the depth of her music by adding layers and textures to what she’s already pursued, creating a familiar yet more complex sound with each new album or tour.

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