Purity Ring Shrines
1. Of high cost or worth; valuable.
2. Highly esteemed; cherished.
3. Dear; beloved.
4. Affectedly dainty or overrefined.
5. Informal Thoroughgoing; unmitigated.
Though many tastemakers in the online music community prefer words like "novel" or "unique," it's difficult to come up with an adjective that describes the music—ultimately, the concept—of Canadian boy-girl duo Purity Ring better than "precious." Going down the list of definitions above, parallels resonate on every line. This is a group made into blog darlings almost immediately upon its arrival, which, in its brief existence, has become the toast of music festivals around the world, garnered heaps of attention from the press, signed to massive indie label 4AD, and with Shrines, released an LP of quaint, "urban"-influenced electro-pop that reeks of undeniable contrivance.
Megan James and Corin Roddick are two artists in their early twenties who hail from Edmonton, Alberta, and currently call Montreal home. The music scene in that community is vibrant as ever, with underground artists like Grimes and d'Eon receiving heaps of praise for their brands of experimental synth-pop. Purity Ring is no different in that regard: The band melds of-the-moment genres with a youthful take on what pop music is and could be. Most tracks on Shrines boast irresistibly catchy hooks, and its cyclical synth melodies—as heard on cuts like "Obedear" or "Lofticries"—lodge directly into the subconscious. Despite omnipresent side-chain compression and a singular sound palette, Shrines sounds expertly produced, with attention paid to sonic space and finely tuned frequencies. But where James and Roddick largely go wrong with their formula is what they choose as the initial reference points of their project—specifically, pairing clicking trap beats and the low-end swells of dubstep with twee vocals evocative of Saddle Creek and K Records alumni. Often times, it all winds up sounding uncannily like The Knife, that is, if the Swedish duo was void of any emotional depth and authentic mystery.
First appearing in 2011, singles "Ungirthed" and "Belispeak" established the groundwork of Purity Ring's sound from the get-go, and after an initial listen, it didn't seem like all that horrible of a place for them to start. While going through the rest of Shrines, however, it becomes apparent that James and Roddick made the conscious decision not to stray from the formula of those early tracks, like, at all. Each production employs the exact same faux-808 samples, exact same wobbly bass tone, exact same handful of sparkling synth pads and leads, and exact same effects bank throughout, which wouldn't be so obnoxious if Purity Ring had more moods to offer than darkly coy and coyly dark. Then there are the voice and lyrics of James, a girlish and unprovoking singer who obsesses over a sort of cuddly macabre. As such, she favors descriptors like "dead" and—the single most overused word on Shrines—"little." It only worsens the album's disingenuous monotony and shadowy cuteness. "Cartographist" comes closest to presenting Purity Ring's overbearing influences as something unusual to its repertoire, as it deconstructs and mangles the trap beats and side-chained sub frequencies into a relatively dissonant composition that is borderline emotional. But canned string samples and waifish wonderings don't make for much without a bit of heart on your sleeve.
Purity Ring suffers from the all-too-popular idea that pitch-shifted vocal samples and well-calibrated washes of reverb are enough to create haunting, enigmatic music, as opposed to crafting singular worlds of sound that convey the soul of their creator and resonate within the listener. Shrines may very well be chock full of James' and Roddick's spirits (and it undoubtedly resonates within many, many music fans), but few things about the album sound remotely true to their source. Built on contemporary clichés and genre tropes, songs like "Amenamy" and the LP's requisite slow jam, "Grandloves," are pure ephemeral pop. Like the rest of Shrines, you can almost hear the music fade into vague recollection beneath the weight of college kids sporting upside-down crosses and making rap hands to its hastily appropriated boom and slap.
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