It’s a pretty interesting story, mostly because of the brevity involved. Purity Ring created their first song in January of 2011, with it’s founding members not even realizing what they had just begun. In late July of this year their first album, “Shrines”, was released. That’s a very short period of time from band-conception to the release of your first full length album. And quite the impactful album it is. A couple listens and you’ll probably have to admit that this Canadian two piece band would have to be considered first for music’s rookie of the year award (that exists, right?).
Purity ring is comprised of Megan James and Corin Roddick. James traditionally played piano and Roddick the drums, however neither of them plays those as their “primary instrument” in Purity Ring, meaning they both take on a variety of roles. That is probably because of their uniquely nuanced sound.
They use a snare, clap and kick in their songs that reminds one of southern trap-rap; with the rapid-claps, clean & quick snare, and a hard hitting sub-woofer friendly kick drum. Lets just say Project Pat would approve of the way they lay down their percussion. The tempos vary, but never get too quick nor too slow, instead they seem to sit in the range which undoubtedly provides energy to the listener, but of a kind that is thick and heavy with momentum. Again, this is a tactic borrowed from hip hop. So are the occasional bouncing synth lines or the overly effected vocals hitting on the beats. They also take their beat preparation one step further, as often them employ a “duck” on their hard hitting kick/bass drum. This means that all other sounds except for the kick drum get slightly quieter when the kick hits, it’s almost imperceptible unless you know to listen for it. This adds an extra dimension to the music as it feel like its breathing a bit at the bass tones, which is of course what their music is built around. The end result being that your ears are just drawn into the music more so.
Purity Ring’s Fineshrines
But that’s just the first layer they throw down. Because while Purity Ring borrows much from hip hop, it remains only a part of their sonic construction. Outside of the snare and kick there are other elements of the “rhythm section” that take more so from electronic music. There are pulsating and wobbling deep-synth tones, that creep up and down, in and out of the stereo field. There is often a thick vibrating bass tone that is separate from the kick drum, floating up or down so as to add emotional texture to the bottom frequencies. Often they are paired, or juxtaposed, with ascending falsetto tones similar to those found in progressive house and much other electronic music.
Then there are aspects that remind one of indie rock as well. Primarily the vocals and lyrics, which do not lend themselves either to hip hip nor DJ electronic. Megan does the vast majority of the singing. She has a sultry voice that sounds of innocence and reflection. Often she is effected, sometimes to the point where its hard to discern the words, but nonetheless her voice always endows an emotional character to the song. The progression of songs also follows more of an indie rock philosophy, as there is often movement and growth, and songs do not always lead to a cresendo of energy or take the listener on an expected route.
Crawlerscout starts the album. Using the aforementioned duck on the bass drum, which is surrounded by a thick slowly wobbling bass tone, they quickly let the listener know that their music is rooted in the low frequencies. There is a wonderfully effected ghost-like background voice, that stutters along with the beats and entices the ears. However the vocals are clear and waxy smooth, plus they can even be sung along to – which seems to balance out the feeling of the song. A similar vocal/beat tactic is used well in Saltkin.
Fineshrines is an example of their version of a raucous banger. This song shows very well the way they have amalgamated electronic, hip hop, and indie rock into their own musical entity. As one can clearly & simultaneously hear elements of each. And because they don’t try to do too much (or maybe just can’t, being only two people), each sound has it’s own sonic space. Purity Ring doesn’t just smash together genres and say “here ya go!”, they have deftly and surgically taken just the parts they want, and put them back together into something universally balanced and enjoyable.
Purity Ring’s Ungirthed
Ungirthed is a more fun loving and dance friendly nuber, as they weave quick-claps with thick wubs of bass, and that same ghost like vocals – except that this time they are more amusing. Belispeak has a frantic pace and feel, as the band allows for a rare cacophony of sounds to swell up, which then poignantly disappears. It’s part rave, but part ganster also, and feels genuine in both respects. Odebear has a similar feel, and is just as successful, although accomplished with a different vocal styling, and a more minimal use of bass tones.
Then there are others songs like Catrogrphist, which feels more like it was created by a pyschedelic rock band, until the darkly pulsating and attention grabbing bass tones eventually appear. They sound like the engines of some futuristic electronic spaceship. It’s a captivating sound and showcases their attention to sonic detail. The tempo is greatly reduced as it’s clear you aren’t even supposed to think of dancing to this one, this one is for deep listening – for the audiophiles among us. The same is true of Shuck, the album closer, which is really just a parting picture painted with their beloved & distinct thick sounds. Those tracks are proof that Purity Ring doesn’t need a catchy beat to be successful.
“Shrines” is striking because there really isn’t a bad track on the 11 song album. They are all solidly crafted, and they are songs that feel like they just easily fell out of the musicians minds. Each track has a little something different to offer, yet they all make sense in context with each other. The album is in part so impressive because of the manner in which they took musical elements we are all familiar with, but combined them in a novel way to give us a unforeseeable & brilliant final product. A final product that is universally accessible without losing any of it’s soul. And it’s the band’s first album at that!
With “Shrines” Purity Ring has proven themselves as, in this writer’s opinion, the clear choice for best new band of 2012. The album itself will also probably prove to be one the year’s best. 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!
Written by Sean Brna
OurVinyl | Editor
P.S. – In case it wasn’t made clear, be sure to listen to this album in a manner in which you can hear the bass tones. Make sure the sub woofer is turned up, or used the bigger headphones instead of the little ear buds. Enjoy!