Chastity does not seem a priority for Canada’s brilliantly inappropriately named Purity Ring. While the moniker has a sonic connotation that hits the nail squarely, this pair of Montreal-made mischief makers could not deal with themes farther from the Federally-funded pro-celibacy program that spawned the widespread teenage donning of said rings under the Bush administration in the US.
This is a set of songs not just about fucking but about physicality, detailed, brutal wonderful physicality and the universe’s influence on such base matters.
What separates this from the pack though, is that this psycho little workout is delivered with a uniformity of sound, a clarity of intent and a bushel of bold choruses to match the sexualised trauma of Megan James’ bold, bright and brilliant lyrics.
Take ‘Ungirthed’, a fragile jag populated with ethereal voice samples, short-circuited half-words and a melody that wends wistfully through the spiderleg lines of beat and hum. “Ears ringing, teeth clicking” James repeats and insists, referring later to “piles of bones”. It’s harsh medicine sweetly swallowed no doubt.
Same goes for the magnificent single ‘Fineshrine’. With a hook that borrows from and immediately betters Grimes’ recent efforts, James trills “Pull my little ribs around you” as the track spreads like glistening marmalade, a post-Postal Service tribute to lightness of touch and delicacy. There’s a great moment of EDM (yeah that just happened) breath-holding before the track bursts, star-like, back to life in a fine example of the trick you have to master if you wish to fill dancefloors as well as headphones.
You’ll notice that their song titles are often minor contrivances of language. This adds to the impression we’re entering a world when we take in Purity Ring, that they have strong and definite ideas about who they are and what these songs are for. It could also have something to do with their blanket use of fractured words and voices as the basis for their tracks.
This shines brightest on ‘Obedear’, which melds those disembodied, distant drawls with sparkling synthclaps, neatly picked fake-glock and a Depeche Mode bass hum. The cumulative effect is disquieting, enchanting.
There’s not much to highlight in the cons section here aside from a misstep into bedsit R’n'B on ‘Grandloves’ – a track that lands on Kindness when it may have been aiming more truly for Ocean. Rather, it becomes necessary to drag out the improves-with-every-listen cliché here, as we’re mostly treated to an ever-growing parade of bittersweet, brutal-beaming treasures.
“Sprinkle salt around me” trills James, recalling witchcraft, superstition and preservation on the minimal, purposefully hollow ‘Saltkin’.
“Seawater’s flowing from the middle of my thighs/Wild buffalo are dancing on clifftops in the sky” she enthuses on opener ‘Crawlersout’ a Bjorky, bouncing beast of an aperitif.
“I’ll take up your guts to the little shed outside/I’ll shuck the light from my skin and I’ll light it in you” is the romantic, bleeding, bulging heart of ballad closer ‘Shuck’. When Corrin Roddick’s slowburn beat hits it’s wondrous, as is his work throughout – while many of the tracks could be accused of being “samey”, the trick he pulls off instrumentally is to combine elements of good ol’ 4AD dreampop with a strong and modern idealism and purpose. Impressive, undoubtably.
What we have here is an album that those who don’t really listen to may find overly cute, that those uninterested in a band’s unique vision (and speaking of bands building their own worlds it’s almost a demand that you see them live for one of the best current examples of that kind of behaviour) may find repetitive but that those looking for an entrancing, challenging, compelling and god-damn great-sounding clutch of tunes will celebrate and share liberally. Virginity be damned.
Listen to Shrines