Review: Purity Ring – Shrines
Published on July 27th, 2012 | Theo Gorst
For a label that appeared to be on its last legs almost two decades ago, 4AD’s recent slew of high quality releases marks a dramatic return to form. Purity Ring’s debut LP Shrines seems a perfect fit for the label, with the band’s self-proclaimed ‘future pop’ working as a natural evolution from 4AD’s ’80s aesthetic of ethereal darkness.
Whereas stars of 4AD’s alumni Cocteau Twins created a sound that married lush instrumentation with operatic vocals, Purity Ring instead attempt to drive their LP with a disconnect between their sonics and words, and, for the most part, they do this with great aplomb. Sounding like Alice in a dystopian Wonderland, Megan James’s angelic vocals cut a stark contrast to Corin Roddick’s heavily doctored, chopped up mechanical beats.
Indeed some of the record’s brightest moments arise as a result of this juxtaposition: starting with dark atmospherics, chopped up vocals and a glacial synth line, James’s vocal melody manages to push through all the stuttering instrumentation to produce an enthralling start to the record in “Crawlersout”. John Peel often spoke of trying to find the perfect pop song [one that would last roughly 3 minutes]: within “Crawlersout”’s 3:10, Purity Ring manage perhaps the perfect ‘future pop’ track.
“Fineshrine” starts off in a similarly brooding fashion, its layered vocals achieving a luxury that recalls Jai Paul’s “Jasmine”. Considering the duo wrote the record by sending beats and vocals back and forth through email, the fusion of the two seems surprisingly pure. The ebb and flow and electronic harp outro of “Groundslove” sound almost natural, some feat for a band who specialise in wilfully ultramodern pop music. Elsewhere the glitchy and neurotic doom-laden synths of “Bellspeak” fit the band – and their choice of ominous beats – to a tee.
Whilst Roddick’s production recalls Southern hip hop, James’s vocals, though undeniably distinctive, draw comparisons to fellow label-mate and Canadian Claire Boucher [a.k.a Grimes]. Immediately naïve and angelic, they muster the record’s true power, generating an unlikely clout in spite of their incongruity against their dark background. James refers to herself as slight in “Belispeak” (“My little belly speaks”, “My little legs are getting weak”) but her voice has a strength that commands the listeners’ attention. Furthermore lines such as “Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you” (“Fineshrine”) and “Dig holes in me with wooden carved trowels” (“Grandloves”) ensure the record is never merely one dimensional.
The LP isn’t completely flawless though, and perhaps a traditional ten tracks would benefit the band best. Indeed the predictably stuttering nature of a track like “Loftcries” becomes frustrating in particular, and, pushes the record dangerously close to being repetitive.
And yet for a debut album, Shrines exists as an impressive and idiosyncratic body of work. From here the question is whether – like the label they suit so well – Purity Rings can successfully evolve, and create a second album that’s as marvellous as this.
Rocksucker says… Four Quails out of Five!