Purity Ring – Shrines
by Jeff Curry (Behavioral Neuroscience), published July 25th 2012
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
There shouldn’t be anything particularly exceptional about Purity Ring. In the last three years alone, a nauseatingly extensive array of dreamy, distorted, and lackadaisically homebrew drenched synth-pop artists have swung by monthly indie playlists for their fifteen minutes of fame, mostly a result of Pitchfork giving their latest album something reasonably above listenable, yet obviously sans a ‘best new music’ tag. And as such, a band that “sounds” like a synth-pop duo shouldn’t deserve to be garnished in any adornments of noteworthiness or be able to preserve the attention spans of listeners, especially given an entire musical repertoire that spans less than two-thirds of just one hour. So what, if anything, differentiates Purity Ring from the countless other artists that fall in the same mucky slop that loosely defines synth-pop?
Well, during live shows, Corin Roddick plays a custom tree-chandelier-midi controller thing while vocalist Megan James periodically hits an illuminated bass drum and holds a lantern, three of the only sources of light on the stage beyond the apple on the back of Roddick’s MacBook Pro. But these things are superficial and more of a compensation for the limits that four arms impose on fully recreating a studio track. James’ sweet and endearing voice is countered by lyrics riddled with modified words that are almost impossible to discern, something that has resulted in a humorous inconsistency in early lyric transcriptions. Ten out of eleven of the song titles on Shrines aren’t even words at all; instead, most are portmanteaus with varying levels of denotation. When her lyrics are English, they’re hazy tales of murder, agoraphobia, perdition, and anatomy. James’ focus on the body is a constant theme throughout the album, from the first line of “Crawlersout” to the last line of “Shuck.” All of these things could be just parts of an intelligent gimmick, but perhaps this combination of light and dark, good versus evil, and white and black is exactly why Shrines is the reigning best album of 2012.
It’s not a very diverse album. Each of Roddick’s sample-heavy tracks sounds like a methamphetamine-free take on Aarabmuzik’s Electronic Dream spliced together with all thirteen songs off Grimes’ Visions (simultaneously, that is). Its layering never becomes overwhelming, however; even with a vast over-abundance of distorted vocals over layers upon layers of samples, Shrines never strays too far away from the sound “Ungirthed” superbly established eighteen months ago. In fact, the weakest track, “Cartographist”, is arguably the album’s least layered. This consistency certainly isn’t a bad thing; even with their similarities, each track is a refreshing compliment to its predecessor, always oscillating somewhere not too far off an imaginary baseline intensity. For example, “Lofticries” propels this amplitude to the album’s most intense musical and lyrical peak, only to be grounded between two-thirds of Shrines‘ softer tracks, “Odebear” and the morbidly-eerie closer, “Shuck”.
From start to finish, Shrines lives up to the hype it began accumulating ever so long ago. I could go on about how I sometimes find myself scared of Megan James’ nonchalant discussions of disembowelment or that I finally think I understand the meaning behind “Fineshrine”, but these are things that I’ll leave you to discover on your own. I’ve listened to Shrines on repeat since starting this review and as I approach my 37th full listen, I am still discovering new things here and there. This is my favorite part of listening to my favorite albums. Everything that went into this album, however, becomes drastically more impressive when you realize that all of these samples, sequences, ideas, stories, creativity, and genuinely brilliant songwriting are the work of just two kids.
Recommended Tracks: Crawlersout, Amenamy, Saltkin, Lofticries