After putting out only a handful of tracks on the internet, electronic duo Purity Ring was able to open for the likes of chillwave acts Com Truise and Neon Indian. Their distinguishably unique blend of genres was enough for the group to be signed to powerhouse 4AD for the release of their debut album, Shrines. The mass amount of media surrounding the then unreleased album created an unprecedented amount of hype for a band that had basically nothing but a couple of singles under their belt. Needless to say, Purity Ring did not disappoint.
Describing Purity Ring’s sound to a non-listener can create a headache in both persons conversing. Hip-hop beats, stretched vocal samples and cute, floating vocals aren’t normally the backbone for a group’s sound. Though most tracks on the album are composed almost only of this, with some droning synths tossed in and out of the backdrop, the duo avoids the feeling of repetition through their use of pacing. While Shrines contains a celebratory sound in the first bundle of tracks, the energy these tracks contain quickly swept out from under the listeners feet a little under halfway through the album. The darker half of the album still contains up-tempo tracks, yet they are dispersed throughout to keep the album interesting and moving. The albums change of pace is executed by standout track “Grandloves,” which features guest vocals from Carpark’s bedroom noodler Young Magic. This interesting love/break up song is reminiscent of Washed Out’s “You and I” in its chemistry filled pairing of male and female vocals.
Corin Roddick’s production is as intriguing as it is constant throughout Shrines. No track on the album goes without deep underlying bass synths and tight hi-hats that keep the songs interesting. Synth melodies are used sparingly so that the vocals may cut through the instruments better and be the star of the music. The vocal samples used are always cut into undistinguishable syllables and used for texture rather than melody. They’re even used for percussive emphasis, such as in the intro of “Ungirthed.”
Megan James, the group’s vocalist, creates an interesting juxtaposition with her vocals on the debut. Not only is her unbelievably sweet voice quite a contrast with the hard beats they sail over, but her lyrics are grim and laughably disturbing. In the debut’s closer, “Shuck,” James nonchalantly informs one of what she’ll do after they’ve died: “I’ll take up your guts to the little shed outside/ I’ll shuck all the light from my skin and I’ll hide it in you.” The anatomy obsessed lyrics that make up almost all of Shrines subject matter would be frightening had they come from anyone else’s mouth, but, much like Austra’s Katie Stelmanis, James’ beautiful voice makes them feel somehow comforting.
It’s understandable for listeners to be unaware of what it is they’re listening to after the first run-through of Shrines. With dreary production, fast hi-hats and sugary vocals, this album is quite a trip. However, the album begins to unfold after a couple of listens and comfort is established in the sound itself. If you’re unsure about the album after a casual listen, take the time and let Shrines engulf you in its dark, lush cloud of morphing pop.