This slick debut showcases dark bass wobble and swagger
It doesn’t take long for the full gravity of ‘Shrines’ to take effect. A few lines into ‘Fineshrine,’ the second track on Purity Ring’s debut, the Canadians’ many qualities collide in staggering fashion. A stuttering intro gives way to Megan James singing “[i]Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you[/i]”. The imagery is bold enough to make a poet weep, snap their favourite quill in half and resign themselves to working at the local car wash for the rest of their days. And it’s not just the words that make an impact; Corin Roddick’s layers of sound create a collage of fleeting emotions. It’s crisp and precise, but dense with feeling, filling a gulf between clinical sheen and lung-collapse heartbreak.
Along with labelmate (and fellow Canadian) Grimes, the arrival of Purity Ring has rubber-stamped the return to form of the 4AD camp. The duo are a solid continuation of what makes the label great, and they share the same spirit as some of their forebears: Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses. They’re ethereal but gutsy, bold but whimsical, doused in confidence and meaning and always poking at the membranes of the here and now, never ones to bow to the status quo.
Sonically, ‘Shrines’ is impressive for its depth and swagger. ‘Grandloves’, featuring Young Magic, comes on like downbeat R&B smoothie The Weeknd – but is way sexier for the lack of raunch and the fixation on love and all its complexities: “[i]I’m in love with you/But sick and tired of this youth/Want it to be easy but I’m queasy at the thought of it[/i]”. Always teetering on the brink of decency and restraint, Purity Ring are flying in the face of expectation, churning out an entire album of impeccable quality that could just as easily remain in its closed-circle clique as be accepted by the mainstream. The music is so slick it sometimes stinks of cash, yet the songs are charming, scuffed at the edges, the childlike melodies accentuated when Megan’s voice takes on its youthful tone.
If ‘Fineshrine’ is the pinnacle of the album’s achievements, ‘Cartographist’ is the track that hints most clearly at what Purity Ring might be capable of in the future. The dark wobble of bass, the clipped synths, the impending sense of doom and the vocal tone that switches from ‘girlish’ to ‘unholy sophisticate’ while you weren’t paying attention. This is the track which gives you the sense that this pair’s abilities could unfurl from their core at any given moment. Having encompassed the slick rhythms of latter-day R&B and the unhinged wordplay of an articulate teen, Purity Ring are restrained only by their own sense of identity. ‘Shrines’ is a euphoric treat in its own right, made all the more thrilling by its heady potential.