A Vivoscene Review by Ben Bengtson
Vivoscene rating 7.8
With Purity Ring’s fine debut record the post-dubstep era finally has a benchmark album on which to rest its glittering laurels. Shrines incorporates elements of hip-hop, synthpop, dream pop, gothic and dubstep to create a binary sound that is equal parts angelic and demonic, bright and dark, innocent and sexual. With Megan James on vocals and Corin Roddick playing everything else (including syncing the group’s lighting rig to their music during live shows!), the duo have produced a plethora of ethereal synths and R&B beats that explore the more sinister side of childlike lust, animality, and seduction, making for a first record that is both seductive, current and compelling, if not a little redundant.
Album opener “Crawlersout” begins with a fragile 80s-style synth line before an army of hip-hop drum samples, echoey handclaps and James’ layered vocals join the mix. “Sea water is flowing from the / middle of my thighs” sings an innocent and carnal sounding James, highlighting the intriguing juxtaposition between the ecstatically bright-hearted music and provocative, mystical lyrics.
Elsewhere the band sounds in fine form, especially for a first record. On “Belispeak” James’ vocals are cut up and remixed into the fray, making her voice sound like an instrument unto itself. I was not too sure what I was hearing upon first listen, but I liked it – the song displays the band’s interest in R&B/hip-hop fused with a synth-laden, indie vocal approach, demonstrating a desire to carve out a new musical direction.
While the post-dubstep direction of Purity Ring’ sound is amicable – and they certainly have found a way to mold dubstep’s clubby aesthetic with indie music’s pop sound better than anyone else thus far – I find Shrines too similar throughout to warrant a total recommendation. The band does not do too much to mix things up as the record progresses, instead opting to mine variations on their own singular sonic theme. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of phenomenal albums have used this same uniform approach (take a look at any Strokes album, for example), but I couldn’t help feeling that by the end of Shrines I’d seen their entire musical world from the same angle a few too many times. If theirs is a goal to sustain the listener, they succeed – but just. The album smartly runs at under 40 minutes.
Elsewhere there are remnants of a true artistic experience emerging here. The second track, “Fineshrine”, is the definitive Purity Ring song, emblematic of what they’re attempting to achieve on Shrines. Set to a seriously badass beat and some deep, heavy keyboard punches, James harmonizes with herself (gotta love studio magic!) and drops one of her finest vocal lines on the album, lyrically and in her delivery. “Get a little closer, let fold / Cut open my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you”, she sings earnestly. The lyrics are violent and sexual, tender and sweet at the same time– an intriguing balancing act, for sure. Perfectly displaying Shrines’ focus on bodily images that are gothic and grotesque as well as earthy and affectionate, “Fineshrine” demonstrates that this band takes seriously the interplay between their intricately designed music and genuine lyricism.
You can stream the entire album Shrines here:
While it is hard to say whether Purity Ring will achieve longevity if they can’t manage to carve new directions out of their original sound, Shrines is certainly an important record for alternative music in 2012 even if it is at times repetitive. Ever since dubstep exploded onto the scene, exposing the culture to electronic and dance music more broadly, artists have been trying to take dubstep’s unique aesthetic and push it to a poppier, “artier” sound. Purity Ring have achieved this with Shrines, making them the atypical act exemplifying this new musical idea. The band does not own the sound yet though: while they may be the first to get there, I am sure someone else will soon come along to blow us all away – can anyone say folk-dubstep, please???