One of the most interesting things to take note of is how different musicians tackle the subject of love. If you’re Bethany Cosentino, you might write about love like it is the only thing you will ever want, and how you can’t possibly bear to be without it. If you’re Thom Yorke, you might be verbose about the emotion, but often depressing: “A good woman will turn your world into dust,” he sang on “Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong,” a song he wrote a decade prior to the best love song he has yet to write, “Weird Fishes.” Ben Gibbard may do it with the least effort, though my colleagues will likely disagree with this sentiment. To them, I ask this: is there any love song with a message quite like the overplayed, yet still phenomenal, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark?” I am open to suggestions.
But, devotion is a truly powerful thing. I’m not talking about mere love, I’m talking about mild-to-moderate obsession here. Halfway through Shrines, the debut record by Montreal-based Purity Ring, singer Megan James delivers it with incredible force: “Drill little holes into my eyelids / So that I may see you while I sleep.” And while “Belispeak” may be directed towards the character’s (assumedly deceased) grandmother, it is hard to not pick up on the potency of the line. When you hear her sing it, it comes off as slightly frightening, if still sweet.
When listening to the record, a lot of things stand out. The first thing is those lyrics. Earlier in the record, James coos, “Get a little closer, let fold / Cut open my sternum, and pull / Your little ribs around me.” It is a request that comes off as extreme, though breathtaking: “You make a fine shrine of me.” James’ songs all feel a bit like this, though in a good way. In that song, her love is such that she wants her lover to live inside her own skin, so that they can be as close as possible. These songs are love songs, and damn creepy ones, too. The fascination with gore would be off-putting, but it’s hare to ignore the levels of devotion expressed throughout the record.
Here, we are lead to wonder about a world where Silent Shout never happened, and Karin Dreijer Andersson never made a single crazy sounds. Purity Ring are clearly indebted to The Knife, and this is not a bad thing: it never comes off as derivative, only a loving homage to the same sound. The Knife, above most things, is a band dedicated to the power of the human voice, and how it can be manipulated to, likewise, manipulate human emotion. This is possibly the thing that drove me away from that band, initially, but drew me closer once I made this connection. James, likewise, uses her own delicately altered voice to change the meaning of her words. Unlike on Silent Shout, Shrines is an album where you can’t quite place how those vocal hiccups change things, but you know that the way her voice is filtered, and the way beats between words are often absent, changes the air in the room. It’s a visceral thing, and can be difficult to get used to, even if the changes are ever so slight.
This review would be incomplete if I failed to mention the other half of the band: Corin Roddick, the almost non-verbal half of the band. He pops up here and there (“Grandloves” being the most notable, and is a brisk, almost hip-hop like change of pace for the record). The live setting is where Roddick really shines: rocking along with the beat, he manipulates not only a soundboard, but a series of tree-like bulbs that, when struck, trigger both light and sound. It’s a beautiful addition to the proceedings there, and the magic isn’t lost when you’re simply listening to the record. He performs in a minimalist mindset; the sounds experienced that go along with James’ voice could be as grand as her words, but instead, they twinkle along as a perfect complement to them. Often times, these sounds come across as something close to club beats (see: the chiming, staccato notes of “Obedear”), but others serve to underscore the tension in what is being said (see: the swirl of sounds that under words like “Oh, my sweet fairy / Our hearts did us wrong” on “Cartographist”). The push-and-pull between James and Roddick is something you feel strongly when you let yourself get sucked into the world created on Shrines, and it’s a tension that is extremely refreshing, especially considering the electronic music world they live in.
Purity Ring is a band that may or may not be indebted to the works of other musicians, but this isn’t a thing that you should concern yourself with; the only debt here is that, without a band like The Knife, it’s possible that this record may not exist. But that doesn’t make it derivative in any way, nor does it make Shrines any less original. Purity Ring is in a class all their own, and it’s a truly incredible to hear a debut that feels this effortless, and this fully formed. Hearing it, you almost have to wonder: where is the band going to go from here, with this new territory so perfectly mapped in the span of a single album? The option I’m most excited for is that, from here, they actually stay in that territory, and become the architects of the world they’ve built in the span of a single, almost perfect record.