On a scale of tolerability, witch house ranks somewhere between chillwave and micro-cassette recorded fart noises. Its musical aesthetic, a kind of syrupy blend between chopped-and-screwed vocals and slowed-down, synthed-up Christmas carols, courted self-parody from the beginning, and its numerous players’ fascination with unintelligible glyphs and Lindsay Lohan never really helped the cause. So it’s probably not doing any favors to Canadian duo Purity Ring that press surrounding their dreamy electronic throb continues to include some mention of a long-tired hype cycle hiccup. Purity Ring is better than that.
Corin Roddick, one half of Purity Ring, packs the 11 tracks on the duo’s debut album Shrines with bassy, wobbling synth tracks that lean heavy on fade-in effects, and often come sprinkled with pitch-shifted voice effects and a Burial-sized amount of echoing space. Yet while much of the album’s elements might not entirely seem out of place on a Pictureplane album, or even more accurately a Clams Casino instrumental mixtape, they’re not so much ends in and of themselves as they are means to constructing a more alluringly dark and ambient pop record.
This is where vocalist Megan James comes in; her sweet, feminine vocals serve as a much-needed counterpoint to the wicked sonic atmosphere that surrounds her. She’s like Alice to Roddick’s fucked up Wonderland, or Dorothy carefully finding her way out of a much less welcoming Oz. Roddick’s basslines and melodies hold their own, but it’s James’ contribution that ultimately turns these songs from compelling curiosities into great songs. She adds a bit of human charm to the soaring twinkle of “Fineshrine” with her cry, “Cut open my sternum and pull/ my little ribs around you.” Her nursery rhyme of “Ears ringing/ teeth clicking/ ears ringing/ teeth clicking” turns the already catchy “Ungirthed” all the more playful. And when bolstered by effects on “Belispeak,” her girlish coo becomes an instrument of even greater power.
There are moments where the duo’s indulgences get the better of them, as on the awkward mush-mouthing of “Grandloves.” And Roddick might be better served with a few extra effects in his repertoire, though he can save that goal for the next voyage. The successes on Shrines make the missteps worth enduring, its numerous highlights marking it as an early highlight for a band current enough to parallel contemporary sounds but progressive enough not to be beholden to them.
Video: Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.