Friday, November 9, 2012

Purity Ring's Shrines is an impressive, but not flawless debut release

Isn't it a shame when a well written and well preformed album comes out but is marred by production issues? Canadian duo Purity Ring are the latest entrants into an electronic dance pop genre that is very quickly becoming a crowded field.

Their sound is generally focused on displaying the dichotomy between high and low frequencies. The main beat on most songs is typically low pitched, bassy and synth laden. The heavy, distorted production work of Corin Roddick is tailor made for getting down, while also sounding futuristic. He sometimes offsets this with a higher pitched twinkling melody, but the main contrast for the bottom end is singer Megan James.

She has a very cute sounding voice. She crafts a sensual sound, but one that is also sweet, girly, and ethereal. It's not hard to imagine her as a wood nymph or forest sprite leading you away to a land of throbbing electronica and otherworldly dance hymns.

The lyrics are often a tangled vine of esoteric mythology and deeply buried metaphor. They're mostly nonsensical, though occasionally some clear themes shine through. "Fineshrine" seems to be a warped take on sexuality, with James inviting you to "cut my sternum open and pull my little ribs around you" while promising that "we'll make a fine shrine." Meanwhile, she's letting grandma know what a bad little girl she's been on "Belispeak." Speaking of which, she also likes to make silly puns out of song titles. For example "Belispeak" = belly speak and "Obedear" = oh, but dear. But she gets away with it because she's a girl and she's cute.

Standouts include "Belispeak," which merges twinkling leads with low frequency electronic backing, along with some dubby opening voices which sounds like an effect similar to what Orbital used on "Distractions" from their Wonky album earlier this year. "Grandloves" features the smooth and chill voice of Young Magic complementing James, and near the end their voices begin to hypnotically run over one another  It's bolstered by a twinkling lead melody that runs throughout most of the song. "Cartographist" utilizes hazy vocals, and again features layers that run over one another.

The other key gems from this album include "Fineshrine," with its bouncing opening melody and its otherworldly spiritual/sexual journey that James leads you on. The chilled out "Lofticries" is also another of the album's defining pieces, along with lead single "Ungirthed," which started making the rounds early last year.

Composition-wise, Shrines is a solid record bolstered by a slew of catchy singles. Yet there are some disconcerting issues, beginning with the production. The low pitched, bassy bottom end synths tend to sound flat, like there are some type of compression issues that cause it to sound muddy and blurry. The higher pitched leads sound fine, but the layer running underneath certainly doesn't sound very crisp or clear and lacks overall power.

Aside from that, there doesn't seem to be a wealth of variety on the record. Although they've crafted a compelling sound, it's tough to avoid the feeling that the same old formula is simply repeating itself for most of the album. Build your songs around the bottom end synths, throw in the same twinkling leads that sound like they've been playing for half the album, and then let James do her thing. But the foundation is certainly there. Shrines makes a great argument for Purity Ring's future breakout potential, while showing that there certainly is still room for growth on subsequent records.

Score: 82/100

No comments: