What I’m listening to: Purity Ring

Believe the hype. This record rules.

In the past 18 months since the release of the very first Purity Ring song, “Ungirthed,” the Canadian duo has proven two things: first, that they’ve truly created a unique and recognizable sound (breathy, ghostly, and slightly ominous)—and second, that they’re complete masters of the media, releasing tunes slowly one by one as they prepped their debut record—and ensuring each was granted a headline in the press. “When you are releasing a constant stream of music, it can cheapen the work—we want each song to linger with people,” describes 1/2 the duo, Corin Roddick, to Pitchfork.

Of course, the problem with releasing tunes so slowly is that eventually, the public might become bored—and luckily for Purity Ring, debut record Shrines (out this week on 4AD) dazzles even the blasé with its splendor.

There’s been a lot written about Shrines already, so I’ll keep it brief. To me, Shrines rules because it’s perfect morning music: these songs feel the same way I do when I first wake up: slow, hazy, and still caught up in a mysterious dream world. (For a peak of what Purity Ring’s dream world might look like, check out the stunning vid for single “Fineshrine.”) Roddick’s beats are seductive + bewitching: warm synths punctuated with twinkling effects and drum machine fits, while partner Megan James’s vocals float on top like a child in the fog. There’s a strange disconnect between the two that lends the songs an ominous, eerie feel, and it’s interesting to note that Roddick actually composes the instrumentals first then sends them via email to James, who adds her vocals. (The two live in different cities, which necessitates this process.)

James’s vocals + lyrics are perhaps the most stunning part of Shrines, melding the childish and the grotesque in a weird, unsettling way. The lyrics and even the song names themselves drip with Lewis Carroll-esque artistry—from portmanteaus “Obedear” and “Lofticries” to images of “wild buffalo” dancing on “cliff tops in skies” and “sleeping mountains”—amidst which James cries out, childlike, for “Grandma.” (“I've been unruly,” she continues, “in my dreams and with my speech.”)

Indeed, much of Shrines seems to elude to a dream world—and just as Carroll’s Wonderland contains darker elements (babies who turn into pigs; door mice who are constantly berated), Shrines teems with twisted fantasies. Images of self-mutilation are particularly present; on “Belispeak,” James calls out for one to “drill little holes into my eyelids”; on “Fineshrine,” she croons “cut open my sternum, and pull my little ribs around you.” The latter is ostensibly a love song, and even more upsetting than the imagery itself is the idea of a love that permeates so deep it quite literally nestles inside one’s organs, pulling them apart from the inside.

It’s tempting to assume from such that James—who admittedly crafts lyrics from her diary entries—is exploring some sort of deep pain through song, but she swears this is not the case. “This isn’t confession, I’m not pouring my heart out in a desperate plea to be heard and understood,” she tells the Dummy Mag. “It is just my thoughts and experiences as source material.”

“I'm writing my own fairytales,” she adds, explaining, “I don't intentionally make it that way—it's not like I say to myself ‘I’m writing a fairytale.’ But it's the same sort of format, I think.”

Shrines is out now via 4AD; catch the band live September 20 at the First Unitarian Church.

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