"Cut open my sternum and pull/my little ribs around you," Megan James sings, with a sweet solicitation that lures you deep into her guts, amidst Purity Ring's "Fineshrine." The line is a perfect entreaty into James' lyric world; a study in evocative viscera and bloodied body horror that gives a tactile quality to a voice so oft pitch-shifted towards eeriness.
James sings of blood and guts, fluids and flesh, sockets and skulls, "little holes" drilled into eyelids, toothpicks stuck in "dirt-filled" hearts. She evokes black rituals in which salt is tossed, skin is shucked, and the body is flayed; all this viscera a vessel for devotion and veneration.
James lures you inside her ribs, deep into her fleshly form, confident that you'll build a fine shrine to her, in her. And, with lyrics as vivid, interesting, and unorthodox as those that dot Shrines —"there's a cult inside of me," she intones, in "Saltkin"— you may indeed feel like worshipping James.
Bubblegum Witch House
James isn't the sole reason why Shrines is an album transcendent; why it finds Purity Ring, on their heavily-hyped and much-anticipated debut, rising far beyond their buzz-band station. But she is the huge one.
The singer delivers a particularly impressive lyrical turn; her words so adamant at creating a specific world that the totemic track-titles read as index of an invented lingua ("Lofticries," "Belispeak," "Amenamy," "Obedear"). And she does it in a voice that conveys the conflicting sentiments that sparks Purity Ring's pop frisson.
The band make music that we could call 'bubblegum witch house'; using the hydraulic bass shifts and blingy synths usually utilized for R&B club-bangers, and repurposing them for cutesy, catchy songs that, incongruously, creating atmospheric sound realms big on eeriness, unease, and dread. It's soda-pop pop with bite, the initial effervescence giving way to a nasty after-taste tinged with bile and blood.
Yet, evoking witch house does Purity Ring a huge disservice. Like so many micro-genres of the blogospheric era, that sound, once minted, fell prey to rote facsimiles; with the once-shocking sound of acts like Salem soon turned into a host of soundalikes that made triangle-festooned names and pitch-adjusted vocals stock clichés. Turned out for free by anonymous producers, it was instantaneous music: made as immediate response to current stimuli, and designed to be quickly consumed, and even more swiftly disposed of.
Purity Ring bucked that trend towards the quick turnaround. After their first single, the brilliant "Ungirthed," caused a flutter when dropped at the beginning of 2011, the Canadian electro duo showed astonishing discipline. Instead of turning out a host more files and hitting the road, they shut down, and turned inwards: working on their debut album, conceiving of a vicious liveshow. 'Thoughtfulness' may not being a sexy adjective for the hype machine, but Purity Ring clearly possess such a wondrous trait, and funnel it back into their music.
This comes across in James' lyrics, in the stylized presentation of their show, even in their artwork. Where other hyped debuts feel rushed —desperately finished to strike whilst the hype is hot— Shrines feels meticulous constructed; the brilliant production of Corin Roddick letting every wompin' bass shift carry with it a sense of genuine weight; the bottom end thumping in a way that has as visceral a quality as James' blood-splattered lyricism. This makes for album both heady and bodily; a set of macabre pop-songs engaging both the brain and —as James would want it— the gut.
Record Label: 4AD
Release Date: July 24, 2012