If the breathless media hype accompanying artists like The Weeknd, Twin Shadow and Purity Ring are any indication, R&B is making a major comeback in the indie community.
The duo at the heart of Purity Ring, Corin Corrick and Megan James, cut their teeth on the Canadian indie electronic outfit Gobble Gobble. After a single largely under-the-radar album, the duo decided to quit their day jobs to collaborate on a new project born of their shared love of contemporary R&B.
This origin story is abundantly clear throughout “Shrines.” Each track is propelled by a layer of 909 percussion, snare rushes and handclaps that sound perfectly at home in a modern-day booty track (think of it as dream pop by way of The-Dream). But while the bump and grind of the mix echoes a chart-topping club anthem, the duo’s chilling, ethereal production and the unsettling imagery of James’ bizarre lyrics quickly deflate the seduction.
Much like the similarly lauded Grimes, the heart and soul of Purity Ring is vocalist James, whose thin, airy voice pierces through the lavish mix. But while a lesser group would exploit a honey-voiced indie diva like James as a cheap bid for sex appeal, Purity Ring allows her to assume a far weirder, more interesting role in “Shrines.”
The inattentive listener could easily assume that James is cooing the typical T&A proposals which are the core of dance music, but closer inspection reveals a kind of cryptic malevolence behind her chirpy vocals. On “Fineshrine,” for example, she offers to “cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you” behind a swaggering, sensual groove. Elsewhere, she entreats guest vocalist Isaac Emmanuel of Young Magic to “dig holes in me with wooden carved trowels” and “stake rare toothpicks in my dirt-filled heart” (“Grandloves”). Not exactly the stuff of an Usher and Beyonce duet.
Though “Shrines” is arguably an album which thrives on a single conceit—the juxtaposition of dance floor sensibility with spooky, Goth-tinged mysticism— it is too remarkably well-crafted and executed for monotony to set in. For this reason, choosing individual standouts proves difficult, but the dramatic “Belispeak” and lead single “Obedear,” which could very well be the greatest electropop single since The Knife’s “Heartbeats,” are definite highlights.
It is extremely rare for debut albums to sound as assured and compelling as “Shrines.” Much like this year’s other breakout 4AD release, Grimes’s near-masterpiece “Visions,” Purity Ring’s much-anticipated debut is an addicting dance-pop confection with a strange aftertaste.
Though “Shrines” may very accurately be described as dance music, its eerie, lo-fi production and inscrutable lyrics suggest some enigmatic purpose that extends far beyond the dance floor. If the Heaven’s Gate cult opened their own nightclub, “Shrines” would surely be a valuable addition to their playlist. Just be sure to steer clear of the Kool-Aid cocktails.
Indie kids who would normally be too bashful for dance floor antics will have a golden opportunity to get their plaid shirts sweaty when Purity Ring performs at The Firebird in downtown St. Louis on Sunday, August 26.