Purity Ring is essentially witch house made accessible; it’s Salem by way of Sleigh Bells. As is with a lot of indie music these days, the influence of Southern rap permeates the production – from the stop-start drums to the 808s. But unlike Salem’s Heather Marlatt, vocalist Megan James’ vocals are processed to poppy sweetness instead of the wails of some dead 18th-century maiden haunting fog-covered European meadows. And unlike Sleigh Bells, they’re not sh!tty performers – go on then, YouTube them – an amazing feat considering how new the band is.
Debut album Shrines comes out only after the band made their presence known with singles ‘Ungirthed’ in early 2011, seemingly out of nowhere, before ‘Belispeak’ and Obedear’ trickled into the blogosphere later in the year. Which is another amazing feat – to have built a fanbase with little recorded material, enough to lead them to creating a full length album.
Used to bedroom electronic acts and rappers, JUICE initially expected them to be the same breed of armchair musicians who impress early on before disappointing people with their total lack of performance skills. Yet this was clearly a false assumption, Megan and partner Corin Roddick are more than competent entertainers on stage. The lanterns lit by MIDI from being hit by drumsticks are a particularly inspired touch, and Megan sounds just like she is on record. Then there’s the LP itself, at 11 tracks and less than 40 minutes long, it is long enough to garner an impression but concise enough to not outstay its welcome.
Shrines belongs in the category of ethereal electronic pop produced by Canada, even genre compatriot and countrywoman Grimes is part of their label, 4AD. However, Purity Ring is never as cathartic as her musically, they straddle the line somewhere between the fevered nightmares of the Knife and the feigned positivity of new wave goth. You might have mistaken the sweetness of Megan’s vocals as reflective of the band’s content, but hidden behind the saccharine Dilla-esque synths and smitten voice lies Cronenbergian body horror.
Purity Ring regularly paints an impressionistic image of bodily abnormalities. On lead single ‘Fineshrine’, which intro might remind you of false buzz band Sleigh Bells before morphing into something less obnoxious, Megan coos of transmogrifying her shape due to some f*cked up romantic notion. This is a consistent constant on the album, mentions of skin and bones and bodily fluid are numerous. Rather than violent, most of the time they’re more eroticised in that the body is invaded by the foreign; “the crawling animals will seek all things warm all things moist, I will relentlessly shame myself,” (‘Saltskin’) and “sea water’s flowing from the middle of my thighs,” (‘Crawlersout’) are two good examples.
A lot of times these words aren’t coupled with ominous beats, they sound mostly earthy and soothing even despite being borne of 1s and 0s. This is really to lull you before Purity Rings go full-on Fever Ray with the dark fable of ‘Cartographist’ halfway through the album. There’s no real bait-and-switch here though, they go back to the immediate catchiness just like that after a brief avant garde interval. Nevertheless, it proves what the band can do.
Shrines is a true avant pop release, it has high ambitions and it has enough accessibility for an audience. A lofty aspiration actually met. If we were to name one misstep on the record, then it’s the embarrassing rapping on ‘Grandloves’. Had they only gotten Jacky Jack Jack instead of Young Magic…
LISTEN TO: ‘Fineshrine’, ‘Cartographist’, ‘Saltskin’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Grimes, Salem, Burial, the Knife, Fever Ray
5. GRANDLOVES FEAT. YOUNG MAGIC