Snapshot Review: Purity Ring – Shrines [4AD]
According to the dictionary, a purity ring is a “type of promise ring that pledges abstinence.” In more plainspoken terms, by wearing a purity ring you promise to not have sex until you get married. As many who wear purity rings will claim, the wait is worth it. How fitting then for a band calling themselves Purity Ring to make us wait a long time before releasing their first full length album. First appearing in early 2011, they began releasing single after single, like a trail of breadcrumbs to keep us interested and engaged. It helped that they were really good songs, too. Describing their sound can be a little difficult, but it’s fair to say they’re like a more pop-driven version of The Knife or Crystal Castles, pairing skittering hip hop-esque electronic beats with often masked female vocals. The duo of Corin Roddick and Megan James are responsible for the project. Roddick handles the instrumental side, and James does vocals and lyrics. Their first single “Ungirthed” did just about everything right, fusing together little electro plinks with surges of bass, and James’ vocals playfully floating above it all. It was fun and surprisingly addictive, which was a trend that continued with additional singles like “Belispeak” and “Fineshrine.” A grand total of five out of eleven songs off their new album Shrines were released leading up to it, and there wasn’t a weak track among them. Now with the whole thing available for your consumption, the great news is that their previous success wasn’t a fluke. Even the non-singles carry hints of being potential future singles, and this record is so jam packed with them it can be a challenge to pick out the highlights. On any given day you might fall in love with “Crawlersout,” only to have “Lofticries” dig its claws into you the next time around. That’s a good sort of problem to have, though for fans that have been keeping up with the band since 2011, some of those earliest tracks will always be considered noteworthy moments. Newcomers to the Purity Ring bandwagon may initially find inspiration in certain songs, though the entire record might start sounding like an amorphous blob after awhile. Such a reaction is completely natural given that the template tools used to make this album don’t really change from track to track. Even the lyrics are thematically similar, filled with vibrant body imagery. “Sea water is flowing from the middle of my thighs,” James sings at the start of “Crawlersout.” The very next song is “Fineshrine,” where she encourages somebody to “cut open my sternum and poke my little ribs around you.” From the ringing ears and clicking teeth of “Ungirthed” to the sweating lips and starving hips of “Saltkin,” and even to the album cover featuring disembodied hands and lungs, Purity Ring are very easy to figure out, even if their distinct sound and lyrics can be challenging. It’s the angle they approach each melody and hook that makes the difference, rewarding close listening. If Shrines has a failure, it comes via the mid-album oddity of “Grandloves.” Isaac Emmanuel of Young Magic shares vocal duties with James in what feels like an ill-advised duet where he tries on his best computer-glitchy Beck impersonation. The song’s not bad by any means, but really more pedestrian and uninspired than everything that surrounds it. Otherwise it’s a very impressive debut from a band that continues to change and evolve with time. It might take them a few years to finally generate a follow-up LP, but if history is any indication, we’ll be hearing a new song or two or five before then. If it’s anywhere near as good as what we’ve been given on Shrines, it truly will have been worth the wait.