Purity Ring // Shrines // July 24 // 4AD
Pop music can be so repetitive when you look at it from the wider scale. I’m not talking about song structures either which by now are so familiar it’s surprising that people can still say something new once in a while. I’m talking about the cycles of decades, the revivals and the nostalgia for childhood. 00s were basically the second 80s and it seems that 10s are going to be the new 90s. It’s so hard to create something that would be new and unique. Purity Ring have long excited me with their sound which takes something from radio, internet and dancefloor and alas, in Shrines we have one of the first albums that are uniquely 10s own.
The internet era has been hailed as a birth time of a music fan that can appreciate everything from mainstream pop to classical, hip hop to shoegaze. Purity Ring sound like a duo that are born in the middle of this era and raised on Pitchfork’s BNMs. There’s the sound of mainstream pop coming out of singer’s Megan James’ mouth, there’s the Knife like ghostly electronic chimes and vocal stutters and probably the thing that makes Purity Ring so memorable, their use of 808 percussion that sounds like generic dirty south hip hop, all courtesy of Corin Roddick off Born Gold fame. For all you know Shrines’ beats could’ve been ghost-written by DJ Khaled. This is the formula that Purity Ring have established last year with the near perfect trio of Ungirthed, Belispeak and Lofticries. Those tracks all find their way into Purity Ring’s debut LP but there really isn’t a lot more on the offer here. Shrines deals with high quality experimental pop but it’s overly familiar structure doesn’t offer any surprises on this mostly straightforward LP.
There is a couple of surprises to break the mold, most notably in the middle of the album. Grandloves is one of the best tracks on here because Roddick shows up on backing vocals providing some much needed harmony and some interaction making it Purity Ring’s warmest song to date. Cartographist on the other hand is by far the worst track on here. The beat is loose and vocal hiccups are replaced by the sort of vocal ambiance that makes the witch house tag that the duo still get tagged with make more sense than ever before. These few black sheep aside, Shrines deals in the same sound that was perfected on the early singles with tracks like Fineshrine, Amenamy and Obedear arguably improving on the original trilogy. The lyrics are just as weird as you would expect from the early material. Megan James tells tales filled with lush detail but gory subject matter. Nothing you can relate to but something interesting for a change. “cut open my sternum and poke my little ribs” she asks on one of the most striking lyrical moments here - Fineshrine. Shrines don’t have to do that to get under your skin.
Shrines is a winner, but you didn’t expect anything else. It’s rare for an album to sound so removed from the rest of the scene and yet, sound so similar to almost everything that is happening out there right now. There’s something very in the moment about Shrines. It’s linear approach might not make it an instant classic but nevertheless: dozens of hooks, songwriting and stylistic ideas push Shrines among the handful of albums from the 10s that couldn’t have come of in any other decade. Shrines is not a bag of fresh ideas, it’s more of a closure of ideas that mainstream and independent music have been boiling with over the last couple of years, and what spectacular show it is.