“The truth is always more heroic than hype”
Hype is an interesting animal. In the world of indie music, sometimes, hype is everything. We often times build an artist up so much that it is impossible for them to reach anything close to our expectations. Hype both creates bands, and destroys them. Take Purity Ring for example. Since forming the group in 2010, Corin Roddick and Megan James have faced nothing but hype. On the heels of their first release, the single ‘Ungirthed’, expectations started to climb. ‘Lofticries’, single number two, showed the group’s diversity. Their mix of bedroom pop and R&B beats is immensely addictive and incredibly accessible, make it very easy to fall in love with the group’s sound. A few months later a third single, ‘Belispeak’, was dropped launching the hype machine into full orbit. ‘Belispeak’ only furthered expectations and opened the band up to new fans through seemingly unanimous critical acclaim. Next up were SXSW dates, a tour opening for Neon Indian (where they put together an incredible set), and an album release date through a “major” indie label 4AD. Purity Ring’s hype snowball grew rapidly and gained calculable momentum.
I admit to buying into the hype and being quite cautiously optimistic about ‘Shrines’, the bands debut LP. Upon opening the shrink wrap and slipping out the gorgeous teal vinyl, I found my anxiety growing. I was nervous because truth so often doesn’t match hype, because so many bands are over-hyped these days and because I was a part of the avalanche of expectations.
But hype isn’t everything…
The truth is ‘Shrines’ is a special album, one that not only lives up to the hype, but surpasses it. From the very first moments Purity Ring’s debut grabs a hold and never lets go. Immediately you’re dropped into the band’s strange mystic fantasy world, a world that traps you in some sort of awake/dream limbo. I’m constantly reminded of the old kids book, ‘Where the Wild Thing Are’. James’ lyrics are heavy with mysticism, dripping with mentions of shrines and worship, devoted not to any religion, but to the fantasy world around her. Coupled with Roddick’s hypnotic beats, the two create a sort of twisted fairy tale. A bedtime story that somehow comforts and frightens, inviting you further in with every tempo change. ‘Crawlersout’ temps you to enter, coaxing you with slow, calm, pulsing beats and friendly melodies that do well to placate before the beast that is ‘Fineshrine’ fully envelopes you. I can’t get past ‘Fineshrine’, it has everything. The airy vocals only serve to set you up for the deep house beat to knock you out. Like, much of the album, it builds to great heights only to drop you back into silence so that you can be reawaken by the next round of beats. Easily one of the best tracks of the year. ‘Obedear’ is a perfect combination of James’ gorgeous siren song and Roddick’s sampling talent, twisting loops of James’ vocals through themselves and back again. Though there are high and lows, the consistency of ‘Shrines’ is pretty steady. This allows the previously released singles, ‘Ungirthed’, ‘Belispeak’ and ‘Lofticries’, to seep into the album and be part of a whole rather than protruding awkwardly like great singles often do. And these are great singles. Each reflects a different side of the group, and shrines in its own way. Most of the album uses the contrast between James’ lofty voice and Roddick’s heavy beats to create a sound that favors neither direction but instead combines the sounds to create a new place, and new vibe. This cohesive vibe is found throughout and is something that is so difficult to pull off, especially in indie pop.Typically indie pop LPs are dominated by a few strong tracks surrounded by a lot of potential. A lot of coulda shoulda. Purity Ring doesn’t hesitate. They are confident and it shows, not asking but telling, “This is how it’s done, this is our time”. On the closer, ‘Shuck’, we are lucky enough to get a look at James exposed, outside of her protective trip hop shell, singing her hymn to the night, ending our dream, allowing us to come back to earth.
I can find nothing but positive things to say about ‘Shrines’. With all of the weight of the indie-sphere pressing down, Purity Ring somehow created an album of immense beauty and wonder. An instant classic that sits nicely beside like minds Animal Collective and Grimes. ‘Shrines’ does more than incorporate the sound of a band, it symbolizes the sound of now, of 2012. So many use today’s technology to improve or create their sound, very few execute with the discipline Purity Ring does. Impressive to say the least