Review: Purity Ring – Shrines

Ashley Cooke finds Purity Ring’s debut album to be highly promising…

Purity Ring are Megan James and Corin Roddick, two twenty-something Canadians with a penchant for witch house-infused synth pop, and Shrines is their debut release. James and Roddick were members of Born Gold, making glitchy and upbeat indie songs (free and legal download here). They began experimenting as a duo however, with R&B and hip-hop beats with a quite ghostly aura about them, more akin to How To Dress Well than Frank Ocean, and the result was Purity Ring.

Four singles have been released from the album so far, and ‘Obedear’ is by far the strongest. A simple riff picked out on the synth carries the song, with a staggered cymbal beat from an MPC, and James’ haunting celestial voice. Roddick heavily manipulates her vocals, bending the pitch and altering the range to vary between a spritely girl’s voice, and a quite creepy, masculine uttering. ‘Lofticries’ opens with James’ manipulated vocals, and throughout ‘Belispeak’ there is almost a call and response, and at other time it serves as an echo to great effect. Her natural singing voice always takes centre-stage, but Roddick builds background soundscapes lowering her voice by an octave, owing a lot to The Knife’s Silent Shout.

Lyrically the tracks are quite cryptic, and there is a definite sense that the duo have had fun with language. Almost every track title is a portmanteau (Obedear = Oh but dear; ‘Lofticries’ = Lofty cries), and the lyrics appear surreal and often rooted in fantasy. Take ‘Odedear’, where James sings, “I came down over the sleeping mountains/where our white tones plunged into the weeping shelter/Tear our skin up out from the bottom.” Or ‘Lofticries’: “Dear brother, collect all the liquids off of the floor/Use your oily fingers/Make a paste, let it form/Let it seep through your sockets and earholes/into your precious, fractured skull.” The duo spurt phantasmagorical, nightmarish visions, made all the more haunting with atmospheric backdrops.

The strongest tracks are the singles (‘Ungirthed’, ‘Obedear’, ‘Belispeak’, and ‘Fineshrine’) along with ‘Lofticries’, but the other half of the album makes much less of an impact. They are slower and less catchy, but repeated listens bring little reward. ‘Cartographist’ features a derivative wobble bass, whilst on ‘Shuck’, James’ singing isn’t strong enough to keep a sustained interest with little musical accompaniment and a sparser backdrop.

Shrines has a handful of very powerful tracks, with intriguing vocal work, catchy rhythms, and solid beats, but many tracks feel rather like filler. The singles that have gradually been released over the past year, with a few captivating videos, made me await the album release with anticipation, and it certainly demonstrates huge amounts of potential. You can’t help but think however, that an EP would have been a stronger release for the duo.