It’s no stretch to say Purity Ring’s debut Shrines rolls into town lookin’ ‘n’ smellin’ like a Sure Thing. Even before you drop the needle, it’s tempting to switch to DEFCON 1 and declare a new world order. Just read the signs. It’s happening. “Meesterious-like-Roger-Moore” art-pop from an Adam & Eve dreamwave electronica duo? Roger that! Borne from silver eggs unearthed in Montreal ... the Holyland of Cohen, Shatner? Affirmative. A band once called “Gobble Gobble”? Uh-huh! A lead singer, Megan James, who spins and weaves Dame Bowie-esque costumes from Mermaids’ barnets for her and co-pilot Corin Roddick? DEVO-TASMIC! A duo whose early transmissions (“Ungirthed”, “Belispeak”... yes, “Belispeak”) sounded like they’d been beamed across the cosmos from Venus? Correct-a-mundo. Now freshly signed to 4AD!? The House of the Gods. The secret society that slips the art into, err, “Smart” and “Heart”. Pixies. Cocteau Twins. Stereolab. Camera Obscura. Grimes. Yes, Mr. President the stars have aligned! Shrines’ sleeve even depicts lambs barfing up ghost arms to aprehend wandering flying lungs. What does it all mean? Nothing less than Purity Ring, you have permission to land ...
... and for the first quarter hour you will be thinking “THIS IS BLOODY IT FOLKS!” whilst frantically packing your best threads, beloved teddy bear and giant alarm clock to go follow their magic mystery tour right outtatown. “Crawlersout” (the Ring talk in neo-Elfish parlance) beams the dynamic duo down with glacial analogue synths, blinding UFO headlights, a distorted R&B patter (think Cassie, Aaliyah), and James’ woozy, hallucinogenic poetry. It’s a hazy fusion of Nite Jewel’s kaleidoscopic pop, the bouncin’ hydraulics of Compton lowriders and the massive eye of Sauron. A memorable first contact f’sure but early single “Fineshrine” burns brighter baby. “Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you”. A midnight kiss of a tune; beguiling, breathtakin’ and abloom with moonlit fantasy and, ok, maybe a little tipsy. “Listen closely to the floor / Omitting graces through its pores.” Oddly beautiful and surfing a heavy bass wave under the delicate flicker of the night sky, its Marc Chegall’s The Lovers with a click-beat and a smoke machine. First single “Ungirthed” keeps Shrines stellar, a celestial slow jam, part R. Kelly’s “Ignition”, tripping on meds and double-dipped in fairy dust. It’s mischievous, mysterious and impossible not to adore. The run of mindmelters continues with “Amenamy,” which is just as Mogwai-cute (the furball, not the band) and tingles with some of the otherworldly delights of labelmate Grimes’ Visions.
Despite the KAPOW! of this opening salvo there grows a nagging suspicion that Shrines is slowly swimming in ever-decreasing circles. Shrines greatest strength becomes its cruellest enemy. This is a magical place but a very small magical place. It’s like discovering Narnia is actually just a wee ring-fenced theme park or that Fantasy Island is the size of a traffic island. You soon find yourself seeing the same sights ‘n’ sounds again and again. For starters, every song on Shrines wants to give you “the clap”. This narrowing familiarity is particularly hazardous on the longest tracks. The dragging, drawl ‘n’ crawl duet “Grandloves” – effectively 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” rebooted by the Weeknd – is a mess of vocoders and rewired R&B cliché which proves deathly dull. Divine harp outro though. Then “Cartographist” wheezes and pants like a Salem offcut, effectively fitting Shrines with a ball ‘n’ chain, and a limp, for five looong minutes. Later “Lofticries” equally dilutes their brand to bland factory-line effect. In the context of Shrines strict adherence to company policy even chipper single “Obedear” pales, now a slightly-less extraordinary machine, another face in the crowd.
“Grandma! The water is rising!” High-five the Lord then for the heavenly “Belispeak”! Its arrival washes like a baptismal rebirth after the midlife, swampy-slump that threatened to consume our infant Shrines. A captivating, confessional phantom menace with a passing resemblance to Crystal Castles’ “Alice Practice” (albeit not as feral) it sways seductively from “Super-sultry” to “Super-creepy”. “Grandma I’ve been unruly in my dreams and with my speech”, this little red riding hood favours the company of wolves. The flames of fiestiness lick the toes of the irresistible “Saltkin” too. TLC lovingly rebuilt by machines and packin’ a killer suckerpunch, “There’s a cult, there’s a cult inside of me.” Reverend, this ‘un has fire in its loins! Despite gradually descending expectations for Shrines, trim finale “Shuck” parts with good grace. Picture “Love Me Tender” cut adrift into extra-terrestrial fog, “I’ll take up your guts to the little shed outside” offers James, the eternal romantic.
Shrines holds skyward a handful of some of the finest offerings Planet Pop can muster in 2012, yet as an “album experience” it ultimately fails to merit a new religion. Purity Ring are an alluring concept – the lyrical imagery alone is dazzling – and there is divinity here worthy of rapture and reverence. However, even over a polite forty minutes, familiarity and repetition conspire to break the spell. Certainly if Purity Ring is here for the long haul, the group will have to ditch the SatNav and push their boat a little further out to sea. Still for a first date there’s enough here to fill your “Little Belly” with butterflies who’ll flip ‘n’ flap your heart a-flutter. Just don’t go expectin’ the earth to move.
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// Notes from the Road
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