Purity Ring’s Shrines was one of the best albums of 2012 and was enough to make this author deem them the “musical rookie of the year”. It so thoroughly impressed that at the end of the review for that album, I stated “Let’s just hope that after they blow up and the world knows who they are – which should happen – that they can still get to the creative place they were at when writing/recording this album. Because if they can, as Biggy said, the sky’s the limit!” (notice the choice to reference Biggy)
Well, as predicted, they did blow up and the music world does now know who they are. So the question then remains, on their sophomore album another eternity were they able to again reach that same creative place? Or would the influences/stresses of touring & fame spell for them the ever-feared “sophomore slump” and keep them at a comfortable cruising altitude as opposed to soaring to the sky’s limit – as they have the proven ability to do?
The issue with another eternity isn’t so much that they mis-piloted and erred in catching the jet stream at their back and forgot to point the nose of the plane skyward, it’s that they seem to have decided to jump into a completely different plane. Don’t misunderstand, changing the core of one’s music for a new album is more than acceptable, even if it’s as substantial a shift as altering the general underlying genre(s) of the music. However, usually a shift like that occurs because the band/musician feels empowered by their 1st album’s success so they turn towards creating music that feels more genuine to themselves, sometimes at the expense of the commercial appeal of the second album. That does not seem like the issue in this instance.
In another eternity we find Purity Ring making an open turn towards universal accessibility. We find them turning away from the unique sound the band had fostered on Shrines, and more towards something seemingly aimed at appeasing those at their late night festival sets. Purity Ring really did create something special in their debut album, they found a way to take a dark/psychedelic indie rock approach to lyrics and song construction, mix that with electronic instrumentation, and ground it all through a southern rap / hip hop approach to beat construction. And it was that almost trap like undercurrent that endowed their music with such a distinctive and endearing sound, a sound that quickly catapulted them to success and a multitude of festival spots and sold out concerts.
To put it simply, that hip hop foundation has been traded in for not just an EDM foundation, but essentially for an all out EDM album. Gone is the quick and consistent high-hat hits mixed with groove-centric kick and snare, gone is the deep “ghost voice” weaving it’s way darkly into and out of songs, gone is the intricate sound layering and progressive production, gone are the at times indiscernible but always intriguing lyrics and vocal styling, gone is the fantastic ducking effect made on their basslines (where all sounds are slightly reduced in volume when the bass hits, which gave a fantastic “breathing” feeling to their beats). These have been replaced by (for lack of a better term) DJ skreetches / zooms, repetitive electro synth lines that aim to get the listener ready for “the drop”, and simple / upfront lyrics that are easy to hear, discern, and sing along to. Deft groove has been abandoned for ardent fist pumping.
In “heartsigh”, the album’s opener, the listener is immediately made aware of these changes. We are confronted with a heavy house beat, plenty of the aforementioned skreetches, and a bevy of the traditional energy-building synth lines laid underneath straightforward and non cryptic lyrics. In “sea castle” we find a slowly building track, with more vrooming electro-synth lines, hand claps/snaps, escalating snare hits, and a plethora of drop-teasing. In “begin again” we – yet again – are greeted with the same electro-synth lines, over more disconnected snare and kick drum interactions, a simple pop-friendly grand piano infusion, which all leads to a very obvious EDM build that sounds like it belongs in an Avicii song.
“stranger than earth” is one song that does offer us a reprieve from the clear methodology of this album, with it’s brooding & veiled approach to accumulating momentum, interesting use of a spattering high high with a hip hop snare, with a dense and low-lying energy. “dust hymn” is the other track which slightly breaks from the rest of the LP, with it’s echo back to their wonderful ability to create something that sounds like Three Six Mafia meets Grimes. Yet even on these tracks the listener is left scratching their head and wondering why the duo can’t seem to resist the urge to use the same tiring EDM synth tactics, which is not added to these tracks for the better.
No matter how forward thinking Shrines was, through it’s fantastic reuse of the past to make us rethink the future, it should be noted that Purity Ring has never claimed to make anything but pop music. So to just fault them for making something that appeals to the neon masses would be to present an argument that doesn’t hold water. Lord knows they’ve spent a lot of the past two years playing to rowdy festival crowds who eagerly were feeding off of their distinctive dynamism and hard hitting bass lines. It’s understandable that they would walk away from these experiences feeling like they should focus on placating the EDM crowds that were frequenting their shows and fueling much of their success. However, it’s hard to understand overlooking the fact that it was their unique amalgamation of trap/hip hop, electronic, and indie influences that brought these crowds to them in the first place. It seems as if they felt like abandoning their unique way of incorporating hip hop undertones so as to appeal to a more dance centric audience. But the premise of that game plan seems just plain silly (just ask bassnectar), as does side stepping the very trait that so differentiated them, and so deeply entertained us.
In the end the real issue does not lie in changing the genre(s) that influence your music from one album to another. It lies in forcing the change for exterior reasons as opposed to interior desires. And while at the end of the day that is an assumption, and we’ll never know exactly the reasons behind the sound of another eternity, it’s hard to ignore the repetitive tactics used and the relative pedestrian approach to the production of the songs. Especially after we know how much delicate layering and astute production this group is capable of. another enternity comes off as feigned attempt to keep the dancing masses happy, but in the long run will probably just keep the band at cruising altitude until their 3rd album.
Written by Sean Brna
OurVinyl | Editor