Purity Ring is the Montreal-based duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick. Since forming in 2010 they released four singles prior to their debut, Shrines. The first, “Ungirthed,” garnered them some deserved attention in early 2011 while Purity Ring was still a relative internet unknown of sorts. “Belispeak,” “Obedear” and “Fineshrine” saw scattered releases as singles over the months that followed, making it clear that Purity Ring was patiently assembling something. That something turned out to be Shrines and it’s definitely something special.
Like their 4AD label-mate and fellow Montreal native Grimes (there must be something in the water), Purity Ring prove themselves adept in fusing a number of different genres: dream pop, house, dubstep, hip hop, shoegaze. They also fuse words to create their own language in track titles like “Crawlersout” and “Lofticries.” Their unique, bizarro pop and playful approach contrives an image of other-worldliness and wonder.
Corin Roddick’s production on Shrines ranges from the rich, accelerated twinkle of “Ungirthed” to the minimalist tick and drone of “Cartographist.” His thumping, hip hop bass and clever, sliced and diced vocal arrangements act as a near-perfect backdrop for James’ velvety coo. Interestin.gly enough, the only time that Purity Ring’s sound feels discordant and cheapened is on “Grandloves” featuring Young Magic’s Isaac Emmanuel. Another genre-bender, Emmanuel should have found himself right at home with Purity Ring, but instead “Grandloves” sounds like Akon collaborated with Dntel; the result is a vomitus hip hop fail. It is the sole letdown on the album.
One hears after just a few spins a slightly eerie set of well-orchestrated pop songs. It takes more than a few listens before one recognizes James’ oft effects-buried lyrics as dark and incredibly visceral. She sings, “Cut open my sternum and pull / my little ribs around you” on “Fineshrine” to what sounds otherwise like a clubby ballad. On “Shuck” she softly speak-sings, “I’ll take up your guts / to the little shed outside. / I’ll shuck all the light from my skin / then I’ll hide it in you.” It’s almost as if Ed Gein wrote love songs. The lyrics juxtapose the absolute grotesque with passionate intimacy, a seemingly incongruous pairing that just happens to work.
Purity Ring’s debut puts another feather in the well-decorated cap of 4AD. Despite it being their first single, “Ungirthed” is the unmistakable pinnacle of Shrines. The pulsing bass and manic oh-ohs are wonderfully distorted by James’ cheerfully delivered lyrics about bone piles. “Ungirthed” does outshine some of the other singles, though the album leaves precious little to apologize for. Shrines may just be the prettiest little bit of eviscerating pop released to date.
Purity Ring – Shrines tracklist: