Purity Ring : Womb

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Purity Ring is a complex duo driven by sophistication. Their debut LP Shrines harbored a complex sonic makeup, aesthetically formed from occult and naturalist lyrics with an electro-pop accompaniment that sounded blindingly warm while showing moments of harshness. Shrines is a trance-like spell of accessible witchcraft. Their second LP, Another Eternity, shifted and leaned away from the foundations of Shrines, entirely. Yet with Womb Purity Ring establish a challenging exploration of their former selves and attempt to forge a new path.

Vocalist Megan James’ voice has remained a distinct component within Purity Ring, cutting through wave after wave of buzzing sonic phenomena and stomach punching bass alike. The refined composition of Womb stems from the other half of Purity Ring, Corin Roddick, in which a recurring soundscape is driven by  long, languishing waves of reverb, established on the first track “rubyinsides.” As the album progresses, new concepts bleed through in stalwart beauty. Lead single “pink lightning” sounds how vapor feels against the flesh, delicate and misty, still carrying the signature downshifted warbling. James’ voice carries a greater pattern of rhythmic ordinance than the actual percussion line itself, and this progressive tendency creates swelling, breathy passages that forgo choruses that stick and instead feel translucent and crystalline, pulsing like blooms of halogen.

Throughout, Womb resides in a higher spectrum of sound, employing sharper notes with greater contrast, but almost never relying on alternating pitch patterns. “Peacefall,” like so many other songs on the album, moves through complex twinkling notes, James’ voice seeking not to overpower but perfectly pair to the music. There are no diva moments—it’s breathier and subdued. This gentler approach doesn’t falter against tracks with more moderate tempos either, such as “i like the devil,” which is still underpinned with a piano and fugue shaped interlude.

For as many new sounds are constantly introduced to Purity Ring’s palette, there’s an impressively equal vocal restraint as well from James, who in “femia” falls into gentle whispery vocals, buttressed against a sentimental melody. The aptly titled “sinew” displays wonderfully vintage sticky synths against a wall of hyper modern trap-inspired compositions. It is perhaps the finest thread tying back to Shrines, except that it bears the same fading hyper textures of that album, in this case a supremely artificial synth cymbal that rides openly against verse and chorus alike, acting as a tendon against the sinew of voice and bass in a rather gory harmony. It’s Purity Ring at their finest.

On “vehemence,” which is a callback of sorts to Another Eternity, James showcases some neat vocal tricks, performed with alternating echoes in each channel. It’s an appropriately haunting, memorable effect with James’ staccato pulse and languishing vocal gravity. It stands in sharp contrast against the richly nuanced and propulsive “silkspun,” which flirts with prog rock-influenced cacophonies of sounds while still preserving its celestial levity. “Almanac” meanwhile takes another turn, with swelling, fragile and archaic sounds, tempered but remaining profoundly grand in the scope of Purity Ring’s discography. Closing track “stardew” a heavenly ode to their career, gleeful in its tonality, macabre and existential in its lyrics, and possessing the most tempting of pop affects in its structures. Yet it’s continually shifting, squirming, and wiggling enough around to never settle.

Womb is the conclusion of a trilogy. Shrines was the body, gory and macabre in states of decay relative to emotional states; Another Eternity the soul, complex and banded to light and harmony. Womb is a rebirth of the self and of a style that presents a greater maturation of sound, presence and lyrical focus. An absolutely brilliant conclusion.

Label: 4AD
Year: 2020

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