It’s a difficult thing to define the electronic band Purity Ring. Sure, I just called them electronic, but that is way to broad to nail down their niche sound. They’ve been described as Witch House, Indietronica, Dream Pop, and Post-Dubstep. My personal favourite, and in my opinion, the most applicable, is Trance-Hop. I dare you to look for a Wikipedia page for that term, because it doesn’t exist. I made it up. My parents have never been so proud.
So anyway, trance-hop is the style I believe Purity Ring most eloquently embrace. Their music is ethereal, drifting and spinning in different directions at the most random of moments, but always staying in roughly the same shape. Each song is a constantly moulding ball of energy and sound. This is where the hip-hop element comes in. Don’t get it into your dumb, fucking skull that these guys are rappers, they simply utilise some of the more instrumental elements of hip-hop. The schizophrenic, jumping beats, pulsating with vigor brings to mind some of hip-hop’s more musical stars and their production, such as Flying Lotus, or even Quasimoto. The thing I’m trying to say is, every track on ‘Shrines’ has a distinct and loveable weirdness. But where hip-hop can be alienating, the trance is warm and all embodying.
Although Purity Ring have outdone themselves on their debut, surely inspiring unreachable expectations for their next album, the main trick to the album is, ironically, it’s groundedness. For the majority, ‘Shrines’ keeps quite a basic formula: minimalist yet snapping drum beats, ballooning, warped synths and lofty, delicate vocals. Serious award goes to Megan James for her vocal work, which is stunning and holds together the entire performance. Without her, Purity Ring’s work would simply be a glitchy interpretation of trip-hop, and wouldn’t have gotten past the demo stage, let alone the band being signed to 4AD records.
‘Shrines’ has some of the greatest songs created this year on it. ‘Obedear‘ is the obvious go to point, with fluctuating, innocent vocals that warp in and out of a bouncing, simplistic synth pattern, that just totally fucking works. But it would be irresponsible to ignore the other works of art on display, such as ‘Belispeak‘ that is so earnestly honest, and holds such an infectious rhythm, or ‘Ungirthed’, which, as the title suggests, ‘ungirths’ multiple, dense layers of awesome sound and systematically sonically shifts through them.
The only regret with ‘Shrines’ is the lack of depth that some of the songs undertake. What could have been a golden opportunity for the band to break out and become one of the biggest things in 2012, was unfortunately missed, and they simply became a treasured secret, hoarded by the hipsters on pitchfork, instead of being embraced by the masses. Sure, they’ve gained a cult following, but the blandness in tracks ‘Shuck’, ‘Saltkin’ and ‘Cartographist’ seem uninspired, and like the band were pushing out whatever they could be bothered to produce. With a little more effort, ‘Shrines’ could be an important forerunner in the growing electronic/producer movement currently taking place.
However, it is better to remember ‘Shrines’ for what it is, rather than what it could be: a masterful debut album, way exceeding expectations of what young producers are capable of when given a mic, a drum machine and synths. Just some fucking jaw dropping smooth stuff.