by Elena Gritzan
Purity Ring rose quickly in their first two years of existence. First single “Ungirthed” passed from tumblr to tumblr in 2011, gathering up playcounts and attention for its swaying beats, pitch-shifted effects, and physical lyrics. The songs continued to trickle out over the next year: the slow build of “Lofticries”, poetically grotesque phrasing in “Belispeak”, a stand-out high synth hook on “Obedear”. Excitement for, Shrines, their debut full-length, crescendoed.
You might be tempted to chalk their success up to the wide sharing net that the internet and social media provides, their year-long tendency to feed their hungry audience songs one-by-one, or the current lovefest for R&B-inflected pop beats, but to do so would be a great disservice. The situation may have been right for Purity Ring’s sound to spread like wildfire, but that fire still needed a spark to start, which it has in the focused, inventive form of the music itself.
The entire album is weaved with a very particular style. Vocalist Megan James delivers lyrics literally from her own diaries, sweetly singing about cut-open sternums and hole-drilled eyelids. The vocals are often heavily processed, shifted down or made to sound inhuman, which is a huge part of instrumentalist Corin Roddick’s style. Beats-wise, you can hear the inspiration both from the hip-hop and R&B he listens to obsessively and the electronic creativity suggested by a former stint in noisy art-pop band Gobble Gobble’s live act, but Roddick has developed a unique sensibility that works extremely well.
So well, in fact, that Shrines’ strongest point is its consistency. There is not a song out of place, each building on the album-wide theme of deconstructed bodies, inhuman sounds, and full haunted instrumentals. It’s a cohesive concept with a strong vision, one that emerged fully-formed when the band first presented themselves to the world. Which can make you wonder where they could possibly go next (their prowess at covering Soulja Boy songs suggests grander pop ambitions), but that doesn’t change the fact that Shrines could very well be the best album released in Canada last year.
As one of three debut albums on the list (the other two from Zaki Ibrahim and Metz), Purity Ring would be a fresh choice after a couple of years of rewarding consistently growing career musicians. They may not have years of experience and handfuls of albums under their belt, but that can be a strength in the form of exploding creativity and willingness to take risks, both of which Purity Ring fully embodies.
Shrines should win the 2013 Polaris Music Prize because it is a strong introductory statement from one of our country’s most excitedly-talked about bands, with incredible musical chops to back it up.