First Listen: Purity Ring: "Shrines"

2012 has already seen a number of impressive debut albums by up-and-coming indie acts driving further evolution and innovation in bloops and bleeps.  Perhaps the most anticipated of all first-time full-length efforts this year is July 24th’s Shrines, by the Montreal duo recording under the moniker of Purity Ring.  Streaming in full-length now at NPR’s First Listen, the music recorded by Corin Roddick and Megan James is difficult to typify, fusing the elements of washed out trip-hop, club-ready dance music, and the rhythm and blues of instrumental hip-hop
Purity Ring’s nearest antecedent could be fellow Canadian act The Weeknd, though while Shrines borrows from some of the same sonic palette the result is far more rooted in the realm of pop, in large part due to the arresting vocal performance by James.  There may be more than a little influence from fellow Montreal artist Grimes here as well, with pop hooks and beats sliced and diced into less recognizable – but no less earwormy – arrangements.

Over the landscape of Roddick’s propulsive breakbeats and atmospheric echoes, James’ vocals drift hazily, manipulated by auto-tune and filters to morph her sugary-pop voice into something more sinisterly evocative.  Cooing to a lover to “cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you” turns a plaintive plea for intimacy – a commonplace yearning in pop music – into something alluringly unnatural.  Confronted with the haunting lyrics and twisted ambience of Shrines, NPR was left wondering what label to apply, instead simply asking “Is ‘witchwave’ a thing yet?”  

It’s a mark of a superior release that it pushes the boundaries of genre and stylistic innovation, challenging listeners to grapple with new textures and sounds while fully immersing and engaging them.  Purity Ring hits a home run in this regard, offering an album so weirdly different and irresistably pleasurable as to reward repeat listens.  The immediacy of opener “Crawlersout” and a strong second half of the album (“Obedear”, “Lofticries”) far outweighs a middle that does drag somewhat, and the brilliant “Fineshrines” is a statement worth considering in the conversation for track of the year.  If you haven’t clicked over yet, get yourself to NPR now for your First Listen.

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